American Sniper (2014)

American-Sniper

Clint Eastwood’s latest movie American Sniper  is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle who was called “the most lethal sniper in the U.S.”.

Every time I watch a movie based on a true story I find it difficult to write about because ultimately I have to write about two things: the movie as such and the story it’s based on. Very often I like the movie a great deal but I’m highly critical of the story. Like in this case. I admire Eastwood for the way he tells Chris Kyle’s story but I’m not sure I can admire someone who killed so many people, although I admire his skills.

The movie starts in Iraq. We get to witness two of Kyle’s most problematic kills. A boy and a woman. There is never a doubt— they are not collateral damage. Kyle takes them out on purpose. With good reason as they were about to blow up a tank. Nonetheless these two kills are problematic for him as we can easily deduce.

After these initial scenes, the movie switches back and we see a few scenes from Kyle’s childhood. How he was a great shot as a small boy already, taking out a deer. This seems to be a typical sniper movie feature. I can’t remember one in which we don’t see a small boy killing an animal, which already shows he’ll be a gifted sniper.

Kyle first works as a cowboy but it doesn’t work out for him and, being a patriot, he finally joins the Navy SEALs and becomes a sniper. One evening he meets his future wife Taya; shortly after their marriage, right after 9/11, he’s sent on his first tour to Iraq.

The movie then tells us chronologically all the important things that happened during the tours and the growing unease when he’s back home. Kyle is quickly turning into a legend. The most deadly sniper the US ever had and he’s also a wanted man. The Iraqis will pay a great deal of money to the person who can kill him.

Back home, Kyle tries to “return” but he fails. He never seems to leave the war zone. He keeps on hearing gunfire; he almost kills his own dog, thinking he’s attacking his kid; he’s withdrawn and distracted. His wife suffers but stands by him. In the movie we’re led to belive she has no idea her husband has taken so many lives. There’s even a scene in which she asks him if he’s ever killed someone.

The parts in Iraq are gripping. Especially since we have a “Enemy at the Gates”-situation. There’s an Iraqi sniper who is almost as good as Chris Kyle and the two try to take each other out. I’m not sure whether it’s based on a true story as well or whether this was added/embellished for dramatic purposes. In any case, it works because it gives the movie a plotline that is suspenseful.

As I said, I admire Eastwood for the way he told this story because it never felt manipulative. I didn’t think he was glorifying Chris Kyle or condemning him and whoever watches this will be able to make up his/her own mind.

Since I’m not American I wasn’t all that familiar with his story. I knew the name and that he wrote an autobiography called “American Sniper”. While watching the movie I had no idea how it would end, that’s why I’m not mentioning it here. If you don’t know yet, let me just tell you that it’s a pretty ironic and surprising ending.

One aspect that I found extremely interesting is what the film says about killing. Or rather – how we get to experience different ways of killing. If you shoot randomly in a battle and kill people, it’s clearly not the same as when you aim carefully and see them fall. A sniper’s kills are much more personal. I could image they weigh more heavily on the conscience than when you’re not exactly sure whether or not you killed someone. In a war like the war in Iraq there’s also the huge problem of civilians taking part. No matter how hardened a sniper is, it will be difficult for him to shoot a kid.

While I find that Chris Kyle is a highly problematic figure – his patriotism is more than a little annoying – and I really can’t glorify or applaud someone who shot so many people (160 confirmed kills, 250 probable kills) – I thought this was a terrific movie. Well done, thought-provoking and the acting is surprisingly good. I’m not exactly a Bradley Cooper fan so I was wondering whether he was a good choice, but I have to admit, he did a great job. And Sienna Miller works extremely well as his wife. I highly recommend the movie. 4.5/5

 

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Battle for Haditha (2007) A Powerful Movie on the War in Iraq

The British movie Battle for Haditha is one of the best war movies on the war in Iraq because it manages to capture the complexity of the situation. It’s an extremely moving film that for once doesn’t glorify anything and achieves to show the ugly truth. It tells the true story of the cruel massacre of 24 civilians amongst which were women and children.

In 2005 a group of US Marines was ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. One of the officers got killed, two others were severely wounded. The remaining ones went on a killing spree that cost the lives of those civilians. For this war crime the commanding office was awarded a bronze medal. The US Army tried to cover up the whole story but four months later eye-witnesses told the truth.

As ugly as this story is Battle for Haditha doesn’t blame anyone but shows in great detail the parties involved in this massacre. Even if the movie doesn’t ultimately blame the US Marines, and in particular Cpl Ramirez whose nerves were on edge, it does point a finger at the US government. And rightly so.

The movie moves back and forth between three different viewpoints and ties three very different stories together. We see those young Marines who often join the Army because they have no chance to do anything else. They are shipped to Iraq but haven’t really got a clue what they are doing there. They face severe hostilities, they frequently come under fire, they are blown up and shot at and stressed out.

While the group around Cpl Ramirez moves toward the city of Haditha, two Iraqi men join the Mujaheddin and are instructed how and where to bury a bomb that they will also detonate with a mobile phone. The street that has been chosen is frequently used by Army convoys or reconnaissance on the way to Haditha. The two men have to hide in an empty building and survey the street until an US Army vehicle shows up and then blow up the bomb.

Close by is a housing complex in which two extended families live who are preparing for a party. One of them sees those men digging and they know what will happen. They are extremely scared. Should they report it, they might be executed by the Mujaheddin, if they don’t they might be arrested by the US Army. It’s a big Iraqi family, many children but also the parents and grandprents live together. They are very close and affectionate.

The two men who bury the bomb are just simple men without any political convictions. They are afraid of the Mujaheddin and they are dirt poor. Helping the Mujaheddin is a way to make some money and they do not foresee the consequences. Besides they are promised glory in heaven.

Broomfiled chose hardly any real actors and especially no stars to give this movie an even more authentic feel. The parts of the movie that show the Iraqi insurgents and the family are spoken in Arabic and subtitled which further enhances authenticity.

As far as anti-war movies go, this is a great movie. I think it also manages to illustrate some of the complex feelings and thoughts of all the parties involved.

The biggest achievement however is that Battle for Haditha manages to show us one or many likable characters in each of the three groups. They are all just humans hoping for a better life. One of the likable characters is the unfortunate Cpl Ramirez who, when he sees that one of his friends was killed, literally loses it. I don’t know what became of him. The worst is that the High Command tried to cover up the whole story and tried to justify the war despite every single incident pointing out its injustice.