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Duck!

February 20, 2015

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper presents a problem for many viewers, on the right side of the political spectrum and on the left.

Though sharing a stage with an empty chair may not be his forte, Clint remains a superb film director. After all, he learned his craft from the likes of Don Siegel and Sergio Leone.

American Sniper confounds people, I think, number one because it’s directed by a master craftsman who happens to be a conservative Republican. From the get go, Clint’s “anti-war” creds, at least to the other side of the political aisle, seem suspect.

The story itself is complex and ambiguous: complex because Chis Kyle, full of patriotism, goes off to fight in W.’s questionable war, excels, becoming a legendary killing machine.

Kyle’s patriotic “aha moment,” as the twin towers burn on a TV in the background, is perhaps a key to what Eastwood is up to. Ultimately, Kyle dies at the hands of a fellow veteran he’s endeavoring to help, at a shooting range, no less. Here we have the legacy of violence truly begetting violence: territory Clint has tread before in Unforgiven.

Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, the three amigos who led us down the path to war, though hardly mentioned at all, loom large over the proceedings. After all, was them guys placed guys like Kyle in harm’s way.

American Sniper, based on a “true story,” nevertheless utilizes a fair amount of “poetic license” in its telling.

In our highly politicized age, audiences seem not to handle complexity and ambiguity very well. People seem to have need for “true stories” to be true.

What story has Clint chosen to tell us? First shot up, Clint frames his story through the scope of Chris Kyle’s rifle—a woman and a young boy enter frame. Are they terrorists or innocents? It’s sharpshooter Kyle’s call…

The question I’m left with in all this is, can the medium of film actually contain such complexity, ambiguity, and a fair dose of irony?

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