Two contrasting views of Clint Eastwood’s latest film produce an interesting dialectic. Both reviewers command great respect on the left, both are actively creative, Jeff Sawtell as Morning Star critic and artist, John Wight as a novelist, political writer and regular contributor to the Morning Star on politics and on sport.
ONE Shooting himself in the foot
by Jeff Sawtell
Clint Eastwood’s biopic American Sniper tells the story of a US scalp-hunter in Iraq who was the victim of a delusional concept of patriotism, says Jeff Sawtell
Clint Eastwood has notably condemned all US wars of intervention from Vietnam to Iraq, so American Sniper has puzzled a few by its supposed patriotism.
But Eastwood, with a track record of providing revisionist history lessons in films such as Unforgiven, has proved he’s a dab hand in the art of dialectics.
In American Sniper, he takes the notion of patriotism and a real-life “legend” of the so-called war on terror in Iraq and slowly strips away such delusion to reveal that the film’s protagonist is a victim of his own ideology.
The film tells the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Texan rancher who’s inspired to join the Navy Seals after watching a TV programme on terrorism.
His claim to fame is the fact that he had a record 255 confirmed kills, which is prized in a system that approved the practice of scalp-hunting.
Eastwood’s approach is evident from the first frame. As a sweating sniper is lining up to shoot a child, we’re whisked back to a boy being brutalised by his father.
Apart from him being handy with a gun, Kyle’s fully versed in the US catechism that “shepherds put down the wolves to protect the sheep.”
After we’re introduced to his community, we get to meet his future spouse Taya (Sienna Miller) before we’re reminded of the soldier’s lot, already made familiar from films like Platoon onwards.
By the time the consequences of his opening shot becomes evident, the film has explored the increasing psychological traumas that undermine his sense of mission.
It’s a battle on two fronts. His wife pleads with him to take a rest, while he’s increasingly afflicted by the effect he has on those eager to follow his example. The belief falters, the ideology crumbles and by the time he’s shell-shocked into a realisation that he could be better off at home, he became the fatal target of an embittered fellow veteran.
With its concentration on the trauma of the soldiers, serving to promote compassion for their plight, some have likened the film to The Hurt Locker.
Yet while such empathy is evident, it’s by no means similar. Eastwood’s film is far more in tune with debunking the myths central to his WWII film Flags of Our Fathers.
Another significant difference, an essential tool in exposing US war crimes, is that the troops relay the horrors they experience by mobile phones. Kyle and his peers have to deal with a courageous and cunning enemy, ready to kill and be sacrificed for their homeland, epitomised by the running battle with “Butcher” (Mido Hamada).
American Sniper is not only a portrait of a man experiencing doubts and trauma, it also exposes the paucity of imperialist policies that lead the US to act with military impunity.
Eastwood, as always, displays a profound understanding of the US psyche by employing one of its very own “heroes” to illustrate the horror of its actions.
Not bad for an 85-year-old veteran, who displays a wisdom absent in US presidents past, present and possibly future.
TWO American Sniper
by John Wight
The swamp of moral depravity in which America is sinking is illustrated by a movie glorifying the exploits of a racist killer, American Sniper, receiving six Oscar nominations, while a movie depicting the historic struggle against racism led by Martin Luther King, Selma, has received none.
American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal who served four tours of duty in Iraq and was credited with 160 confirmed ‘kills’, earning him the dubious honour of being lauded the most lethal sniper in US military history.
Played by Bradley Cooper, in the movie Kyle is an all-American hero, a Texas cowboy who joins the military out of a sense of patriotism and a yearning for purpose and direction in his life. Throughout the uber-tough selection process, Kyle is a monument of stoicism and determination, willing to bear any amount of pain and hardship for the honour of being able to serve his country as a Navy Seal – America’s equivalent of the Samurai.
The personal struggle he endures as a result of what he experiences and does in Iraq is not motivated by any regrets over the people he kills, including women and children, but on his failure to kill more and thereby save the lives of more American soldiers as they go about the business of tearing the country apart, city by city, block by block, and house by house.
If American Sniper wins one Oscar, never mind the six for which its been nominated, when this annual extravaganza of movie pomp and ceremony unfolds in Hollywood on February 22, it will not only represent an endorsement of US exceptionalism, but worse it will stand as a grievous insult to the Iraqi people. In the movie they are depicted as a dehumanised mass of savages – occupying the same role as the Indians in John Wayne Western movies of old – responsible for their own suffering and the devastation of their country, which Americans such as Kyle are in the process of civilizing.
Anything resembling balance and perspective is sacrificed in American Sniper to the more pressing needs of US propaganda, which holds that the guys who served in Iraq were the very best of America, men who went through hell in order to protect the freedoms and way of life of their fellow countrymen at home. It is the cult of the soldier writ large, men who in the words of Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in the movie “just want to get the bad guys.”
The ‘bad guys’ are, as mentioned, the Iraqis. In fact if you had just arrived in the movie theatre from another planet, you would be left in no doubt from the movie’s opening scene that Iraq had invaded and occupied America rather than the other way round.
Unsurprisingly, the real Chris Kyle was not as depicted by Clint Eastwood and played by Bradley Cooper. In his autobiography, upon which the movie is supposedly based, Kyle writes, “I hate the damn savages. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.”
It is clear that the movie’s director, Clint Eastwood, when faced with the choice between depicting the truth and the myth, decided to go with the myth.
But should come as no surprise, given that the peddling of such myths is the very currency of Hollywood. Over many decades the US movie industry has proved itself one of the most potent weapons in the armoury of US imperialism, helping to project a myth of an America defined by lofty attributes of courage, freedom, and democracy.
As the myth has it, these values, and with them America itself, are continually under threat from the forces of evil and darkness that lurk outwith and often times within. The mountain of lies told in service to this myth has only been exceeded by the mountain of dead bodies erected on the basis of it – victims of the carnage and mayhem unleashed around the world by Washington.
Chris Kyle was not the warrior or hero portrayed in American Sniper. He was in fact a racist killer for whom the only good Iraqi was a dead Iraqi. He killed men, women, and children, just as his comrades did during the course of a brutal and barbaric war of aggression waged by the richest country in the world against one of the poorest.
They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the hands of a movie director with millions of dollars and the backing of a movie studio at its disposal, it is far more dangerous than that. It is a potent weapon deployed against its victims, denying them their right to even be considered victims, exalting in the process, when it comes to Hollywood, those who murder and massacre in the name of ‘Rome’. With this in mind, it is perhaps fitting that Chris Kyle was shot and killed by a former Marine at a shooting range in Texas in 2013.
“Man was born into barbarism,” Martin Luther King said, “when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence.”
First posted on Socialist Unity