American Sniper

American Sniper

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As a soldier, one of the first things at which I excelled, according to the infallible eye of my drill sergeants, was marching and marching movements. As a white guy and someone whose idea of nightmare is dancing in public, I’m a proud member of Rhythmless Nation, but I can twist & turn on command at perfect stiff right angles in combat boots with the best of them, apparently. This, uh, skill led me to be selected for local funeral detail while I was still a trainee in the U.S. Army.

George W. Bush was my nation’s Commander-In-Chief at this time, and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were directing troop deployments & strategizing a war based on short-sighted gibberish, so there were lots and lots of American soldiers’ funerals going on. You probably didn’t see them much on tv. Journalists weren’t allowed to cover caskets arriving on our shores covered in the American flag.

Peter Pan (our semi-secret name for a female DS, because she wore a funny little asymmetrical brown-green hat and possessed boyish features) would gather 7 young men in our Class A’s, rehearse movements and timing, give us a bunch of blank 5.56mm ammo, and drive a white conversion van from Fort Whatever to a local church cemetery so we could stand like reverent statues during some religio-babble and then each 3x blank-fire our M16A2s into the tragic, artificially poignant atmosphere while some lady shed tears and some uniformed robot aliens folded a flag and some piece of wood containing some piece of flesh and/or ash descended into some dirt while some other trainee held a fake trumpet to his lips while some electronic version of “Taps” emanated straight from his instrument/speakerhorn to the grieving woman’s ears & tear ducts.

One time at a funeral my weapon malfunctioned; it failed to discharge the blank round that I had properly chambered in an M16A2 that hadn’t been properly cleaned because it didn’t belong to me and had only been issued to my possession a few minutes before the van ride. I went through the motions anyway, pretending to fire as my finger on the trigger produced nothing more than a pathetic ‘clink.’ No one but me noticed that the fallen had received a mere 18 gun salute that day at his funeral.

One time the mother of the fallen made it a point to meet face-to-face her dead son’s funeral detail in her dead son’s final resting place’s front yard, as we were shuffling toward the white van to take us back to the installation, away from this horrid scene. She willingly initiated the encounter. She said thank you. “Thank you,” she said.

I think she liked the uniforms, the clean sense of formalism and pomp. I don’t think she was thinking. When she came down the line to hug me, I tried to keep my one hand on my weapon so I could maintain positive control of the selector switch & trigger well while I used the other arm to touch her shoulder and I said, “No, it’s a privilege, ma’am.” She had trouble with eye contact, or maybe that was me. She wiped her tears and shuffled away. We got in the van and went to a restaurant that served wings. Our hardass NCO leaders paid for our lunch. They said we were allowed to remove our jackets and downgrade to Class B’s until we RTB’d. I had a sweet tea and fried pickle slices.

In Basic Combat Training our platoon held an impromptu sniper-skills contest – all 34 of us took an unsupported prone marksman position in full kit and remained as still as possible in a line until a drill sergeant detected movement or instability and tapped you out. If he saw your muzzle wiggle, you’re done. Take a breath that expands your rib cage more than a millimeter, you’re done. Scratch an itch between your big toe and your index toe by squirming your lower digits within your sock within your boot, you’re done. I got tapped out in the final six; the ACU fabric between my elbow bone and the ground betrayed me, and the upper assembly of my weapon swayed a smidgen. I was no sniper, but I kinda wanted to be one.

I was, however, at one point named Platoon Guide for a couple weeks of my BCT experience, which means I was responsible for unique motivational marching chants. That’s right, I became a cheerleader and cheerleader coach. My favorite cadence was, “Steady (left) Aim (right) Breathe (left) and (right) Trigger (left, right) Squeeze (left, right), that’s what they teach in BCT.” But I was no sniper. At least not with a standard small arms handheld weapon. I didn't approach 160+ kills, but there's more than a dash of red on my ledger. But that's a different story. It involves mortars and attack helicopters and lased missiles and A-10s. God won't forgive you for what I did.

So, although I didn't see GWOT action til "The Surge," let's say I've something of an idea where this movie is coming from, especially the multi-deployment and post-deployment, elevated blood-pressure stuff.

Chris Kyle’s 2-eyed technique is insane. They tell you to use 2 open eyes to *acquire* your target, then naturally you’ll go to one eye in the ACOG or M145 or EOTech or (*shudder*) M68 to aim and fire. Kyle must have been a shootist savant.

The screenwriters for AMERICAN SNIPER are not savants. Well, it’s one credited guy, making a script based off the compromised tri-authored book, and this guy is previously responsible for PARANOIA and something called SPREAD.

The perils of “biopic” rear their head, as when a character tells Kyle (paraphrasing from memory), “If you’re wrong about this, they’ll send you to Leavenworth.” This line is repeated, thanks to achronological editing. Biopic cinema forces theme-emotion-delivery exposition, but, in real life, I would punch a dude in the neck if he said some shit like that to me while we’re in the middle of a mission. (Kyle's character makes up for it later when he tells/commands the snipe-partner he'll be clearing buildings with Marines on the ground.)

And then there’s the Mustafa dynamic. Sigh. Because we need a focal point for our bloodlust, and it’s best if it comes in the form of a singular individual who happens to be diabolically symmetrically opposed to our hero’s cause and aligned with our hero’s skill-set. Allah forbid we indulge in the complicated notion of the fog of war rather than set up a cinematically satisfying bullet-ridden tête–à–tête. Wouldn’t want to burn the fee fees of our rah rah war supporters back home. It’s a dangerous game, affording the brown people too much humanity or ambiguity of purpose, but how honorable it is to honor them by depicting their honorably impressive hunting skills. In another universe, they would’ve made good backyard deer, or at least rubber deer targets.

So, how seriously does one take AMERICAN SNIPER?

Does unprecedented January opening box office count?

Awards nominations?

Should I note that an audience applauded upon ending credits?

Is this the part where I mention Clint Eastwood’s politics?

Am I supposed to debunk a costume department’s technical miscue?

Is AMERICAN SNIPER worthy of derisive comparison to 2 of the worst wide-release movies of the past 6 years, both of which also dealt with OIF and GWOT and also won a bunch of awards from a bunch of naive civilians?

I don’t know, man. I’m a sheepdog, but maybe I should be a wolf toward this movie. I don’t know. It’s a tragically simplistic narrative, easy to comprehend, one-sided. That’s what makes it harmful as a piece of culture, a piece of "history." That's what makes it properly focused and successful as cinema.

There are elements of great cinema in AMERICAN SNIPER.
Don’t ever show it to me again.

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