Here are the reviews I wrote for the March issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.
Few American films of recent memory have set off such a flurry of passionate, crossfire opinions as Clint Eastwood’s account of the life of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. As with many of Eastwood’s myth-generating movies, this one presents a hero who is uncomfortable with his myth. As played by Bradley Cooper, Kyle is beefy and withdrawn, a man who knows what he’s good for and doesn’t derive much satisfaction from compliments. The problem many people have with the movie is the problem they have with the man, who in real life was said to be much more calculating, a dissembler who puffed up his own worth by deflating others’. We see none of that here, and it’s an important distinction since Kyle’s theater of operations is Iraq, where he spent four tours. Eastwood has us believe that Kyle could not function fully unless he was in the thick of battle, his senses fully engaged. Back in Texas, with his beautiful, very understanding wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), he’s an electrical cord waiting to be plugged in. Eastwood chooses which aspects of Kyle’s personality suits his purposes, and the street battle scenes in Iraq are not only some of the best work he’s ever done, they’re some of the best battle scenes ever shot in Hollywood: tense, observant, emotionally connected. But the capability of the direction is a function of the capability of the soldiers, as well as their dedication. The reasons these men are in Iraq killing civilians, who might otherwise kill them, are never interrogated, and if you thrill at the professionalism you have to buy into the myth that Americans were helping, when everything we’ve learned since 2003 proves that was not the case. It’s a lot to put on a film, especially one that is as dramatically rigorous as this one is. Eastwood doesn’t revel in the violence, though he does honor the skills that made Kyle a “legend,” as his colleagues call him. These decisions not only elevate Kyle to broken hero status, but diminish all those who pass through his gun-site. These Iraqis have no purchase on our sympathies, even as they’re being shot up with bullets, anybody’s bullets. It matters nothing to Eastwood that Kyle was a racist (he said as much in his memoir) and thus had no compunction about killing the other, even when they’re women and children. In the movie’s most famous scene, Kyle coolly shoots a mother and her young son who seem to be carrying a bomb. That Eastwood charges it with as much latent tension as he does attests to his filmmaking instincts; that it comes as a relief Kyle is “right” as far as the kill call goes attests to the viewer’s complicity in the lie of the hero. (photo: Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Ltd., Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC) Continue reading