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August 17th, 2017

Insight

'American Sniper' criticism makes for amusing theater

John Kass

By John Kass

Published Jan. 22, 2015

I've got to admit that it has been a barrel of fun watching the political left get its "Je suis Charlie" all tied up in knots over the movie "American Sniper."

They're tweeting and making angry faces, insisting that the movie is not appropriate history. And generally their antics have been quite amusing.

I'm trying to imagine them as they might have been eons ago, in prehistoric times. Hairier perhaps, shorter of bone, shouting aggressively at the shadow puppets flickering on the wall of the main cave after a feast because they didn't much like the story.

"American Sniper" is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Oscar-nominated Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who is said to have been the deadliest sniper in American military history.

It is a huge box office success, pulling in over $107 million in its first four days. I saw it just the other day and I liked it, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.

Not only do conservatives like the movie, but people who aren't all that overtly political are paying good money to see it too. You might know the type.

President Barack Obama once dismissed them (rather tolerantly, he must have thought) by saying they're really simple folk who can't help but "cling to their guns and their religion."

And they're the ones the U.S. calls upon when it's time to kill the bad guys.

Yet as Americans flock to this movie, we should realize that some see it as a sign of aggression. Liberal American Internet organs pulsate with criticism, but it was the Guardian -- a British paper of leftist politics yet unassailable soccer coverage -- that led the pack.

"The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer," railed the Guardian. "Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero?"

Why?

Because he killed the enemy and he didn't whine about it.

"My uncle killed by sniper in WW2," tweeted Michael Moore, the liberal filmmaker. "We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse."

Moore wasn't alone. Comedian Seth Rogen also ripped the film initially. They then backtracked their comments, and the backpedaling only added to the theater.

Others jumped in, insisting that Kyle wasn't a hero, arguing that he was a racist, or at least an unwitting totem of American jingoism.

Naturally, Republicans started calling the left a bunch of wusses, and Sarah Palin started swinging, rhetorically, and now they're all happily slugging the figurative guts out of each other in name of freedom of expression.

I don't want to spoil the film so I'll tread carefully here, but was Cooper's work Oscar-worthy?

Yes.

But does the movie glorify Kyle as a hero?

No.

There was hero talk throughout the film, and the Kyle character loathed such talk. Walking out of the theater with my wife the other day, we didn't see him as a hero as much as we saw a broken man who took a tough job and was trying to mend himself.

And that's what's so fine about Eastwood's film. And those who loathe it or love it for politics are giving into tribalism and making a mistake.

Cooper's sniper is a man who kept the Bible at hand, but had a hard time opening it; a man who killed the enemy and carried burdens, whether he wanted to admit the weight of them or not.

"American Sniper" illustrates the psychic scars war leaves on good people. Others might say it glorifies war, and others might quibble with Kyle's contention the enemy were "savages" that had to be put down.

I won't ever know what it takes to be a soldier like Kyle, but standing safely on the outside, I'd think that if you started to consider the humanity of your targets, you'd probably lose your mind. He wanted to kill the enemy, save his own soldiers and get the hell home.

One part bothered me, and it wasn't political. It was a scene at the end of the film where the sniper is on the mend, emotionally, and then pulls a revolver and points it at his wife in a joking matter.

If I'd been about to go hunting, and watched my hunting partner make a joke of a gun and point it at his wife, there wouldn't be a hunt.

But that's personal. And the controversies about "American Sniper" are political and historical.

That's what we're really arguing about here, isn't it? We're fighting about a movie, and about future memory seared into the public's mind.

Many people don't take the time to read conflicting histories, and without context and study, we are left with emotion.

Except for technique, there really isn't much difference between shadows on the cave wall and today's movies.

We sit in the dark, together, amazed, there's something communal and anonymous about that shared experience, as we watch images, sentiments, flickering.

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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM.

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