Okay. After watching Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, I have now seen all 8 of the films nominated for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award. And I wasn’t going to wade in on any of the controversy surrounding it, but this little tweet from The Interview‘s own Seth Rogen set me off just a bit:
He was comparing Sniper to Inglourious Basterds‘ film-within-a-film “Nation’s Pride,” which was about a German sniper’s heroic three day stand in a bell tower against invading American forces. However, commissioned by Joseph Goebbels in the universe of Tarantino’s film, it is first and foremost propaganda, with the German solider Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) playing himself in the movie, like real-life American soldier Audie Murphy did in To Hell and Back after returning from World War II. Rogen later backtracked, saying he had simply been “reminded” of “Nation’s Pride” while watching Sniper, and that he actually liked Clint Eastwood’s film. Clarification or not, however, his original tweet was one more comment in a maelstrom of controversy surrounding the movie and is still a valid point for discussion.
Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) starring in his own film, “Nation’s Pride”
So while, yes, similarities can be made between “Nation’s Pride” and American Sniper, in that they are both about snipers who killed upwards of 150-200 enemy combatants in war and were deemed heroes afterwards, they are in no way the same movie. I simply do not understand the outcry over American Sniper. I happen to be a conservative individual, but apart from (film) Chris Kyle being a Texan who took great pride in serving his country, I cannot – for the life of me – see any sort of conservative slant to the movie. Yes, Kyle killed people in the line of duty, and while many of these deaths are brutally depicted on screen, he never gloats about them. At one point, he clearly has a nervous breakdown after coming seconds away from killing a kid with an RPG (the kid puts the weapon down and runs away), and his demons follow him home. He is distant with his wife and his kids between tours of duty and then when home for good, and prone to violent reactions to seemingly-ordinary things like dogs barking or drilling sounds. The film does not delve too deeply into his PTSD, but it acknowledges its existence, as well as showing other veterans with loss of limb or other forms of psychological problems. Heck, his own brother, also serving in Iraq, curses the sand beneath his feet before heading home after his own tour of duty.
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper
If anything, American Sniper showed a horrifying conflict in a horrifying and extremely realistic light. Complaints against it claim that it didn’t show Americans committing war crimes or that it failed to humanize the Iraqi insurgents killed by Kyle, especially the enemy sniper with whom Kyle faces off in an Enemy at the Gates-type snipers’ dual over the years, or the fact that it did not outright condemn the Iraq War itself like many previous Hollywood films had done, but this movie particularly was not meant to show all of that. It was about Chris Kyle, his drive and his dedication to his role as a U.S. soldier, and his role as a husband and father.
Personally, I was not blown away by the movie, just as I was not blown away by 2012’s similarly-themed and -plotted Zero Dark Thirty, though I did like Bradley Cooper’s portrayal and believe the film earned its many Oscar nominations. And I certainly think any outrage over the movie is complete and utter nonsense.
That being said, I also find the other side of the aisle’s (that is, my side’s) complaints against the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma to be just as unfounded. I actually thought it was one of the better movies nominated for Best Picture this year (I liked it more than Sniper), and apart from the use of “Ferguson” in the Common/John Legend song “Glory” that accompanied the end credits, I believe that it avoided taking political sides and approached the topic of Civil Rights objectively.
David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma
Selma, as well as American Sniper, has been charged with historical inaccuracies to the point of mudslinging and uproars on either side of the political spectrum as their respective horse in the race comes under fire from the other side, but The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything have somehow seemed to creep by scot-free of any major criticisms, even though liberties have certainly been taken in their adaptations to the screen as well. Is it simply because they aren’t focusing on such volatile subjects as Civil Rights and the Iraq War that people haven’t been outraged over them? Or can people just not put aside their views for two hours and try to watch two fairly objective movies in an objective light?
I’ll admit, that’s a lot easier said than done, as I panned Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which attempted to tell a fictional story in a realistic way. Even though I appreciated the concept of filming the movie over 12 years and the work put into making it over that time, I did not like the actual movie, mainly because I could not stand the main character and the liberal slant to his worldview. Why would anyone laud how this kid grew up? He went from a cute little kid to a complete asshole, and it took 3 long hours for me to watch it happen… However, I am not outraged by the movie; I just didn’t like it. And I will leave it at that. If anyone wants to see it and love it – and hell, a lot of people have as it will probably win Best Picture – then so be it.
American Sniper and Selma were the anti-Boyhood. These two films had STORIES. They told actual stories about flawed characters that WE STILL CARED ABOUT, not idealistic impressions of them, and didn’t forgive or gloss over their characters’ flaws for the sake of having a happy “Hollywood” ending. They told historical events realistically and objectively, and for that reason alone, the should be seen by everyone. Many people just can’t seem to wrap their minds around that.
To come full circle, Seth Rogen… shame on you for speaking negatively (consciously or subconsciously) on another film after that train wreck of a…what? – it’s certainly not a movie – you call The Interview. I didn’t think I could like and enjoy a film from 2014 less than I did Noah. And nothing I’ve seen in years is as bad as your buddy James Franco’s Gollum impression.