American sniper, a review

“American sniper” is a disappointment, a big one for those of us who consider Clint Eastwood one of the great directors of recent years.

It is not so much a matter of political bias or jingoism, I would have had no problem with a jingoistic film, so long as it was good stuff. “American sniper” isn’t. It is light years away from “Mystic river”, away not behind. It is a film that on the surface looks like an Eastwood movie, a Malpaso production. But it is flat, simplistic, one would even say afraid of digging deeper into the real issues. The real issues always present in Eastwood’s movies: good, evil, parenthood and the good old American values.

Yes, Eastwood is an all American guy, he has never denied his patriotism. But his strand of patriotism we all understood was based on the pride of feeling part of something honest and noble. This may sound too naive in these days, but Eastwood’s brand was basically rooted on that. His movies explore evil for instance without fear, with an acceptance of the world as it is and the need to make it better.

“American Sniper” is astonishingly simplistic when it comes to depicting evil. The image of the jihadist terrorist machine drilling a small kid, scaring his fellow country men while the Americans raid the streets is plainly childish. The hunt for the Syrian sniper for instance was a superb opportunity to show the complexity of Chris Kyle’s situation in Iraq. But instead of making the enemy’s character more nuanced, more appealing, the whole thing develops into a sort of stand off between a hero and a bad guy, the ability to shoot someone at a distance of two kilometers being the one memory one goes away with.

There is one thing I did like about the film and that is the way Kyle is portrayed. His reactions simple and direct, his determination seemingly unshakable. Even when his own brother looks a broken man, Kyle does not seem to doubt, quite on the contrary. One would even think that there is a hint of criticism in the way Eastwood puts across Kyle’s life, but again the brushes are too broad, the attention to detail lost in the desire to tell the whole story.

In the end I found it difficult to connect with Chris Kyle, he is much less “human” than the characters I have enjoyed in so many films from Clint Eastwood. Probably in part because I live in a country which does not know what fighting a war really involves, what sacrifices are required. But all of that could have been covered in a good documentary, that is not what I was expecting from the man who made “Flags of our fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”.

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