DVD review: American Sniper

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Director: Clint Eastwood.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Cole Konis, Ben Reed

American Sniper is based on the story of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who served four tours in Iraq and became the most prolific sniper in US history.

Brought up in a strict God-fearing, gun-toting Texan family environment, Kyle (played as an adult by Bradley Cooper) has nevertheless rather gone off the rails by the time we meet him in adulthood, wasting his time on booze, bucking broncos and broads. The solution? He decides to replace his Stetson with a helmet.  Intensely patriotic, Kyle enrols as a Navy SEAL and is soon going through the rigours of an intense beefing up programme, catching the eye of future wife Taya (Sienna Miller) along the way. Soon Kyle is in Iraq, engaged in numerous hugely dangerous combat missions, often involving shooting potential terrorists from great distances.

Kyle’s efforts soon earned him the nickname “Legend” amongst his colleagues, but to its credit, Clint Eastwood’s film does not attempt to glamorise Kyle’s unpleasant, hazardous and ethically dubious work. The real difficulties of family life for a warrior are also laid bare with Sienna Miller excellent as the long suffering wife and mother back home. Cooper is also impressive as Kyle, an inarticulate but apparently moral man who often seemed more at ease in terrifying combat situations than he did with his family on leave back home.

This is a well made, memorable film which continues Eastwood’s latter career as a great director. It would be an incurious soul who did not have a few doubts about the film’s political position though. For example, Kyle is seen first going into Iraq only two scenes after he and his wife witness the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks on TV. The casual viewer would be forgiven for thinking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was actually responsible for the attacks, hence making the US intervention in Iraq logical and necessary. This myth is, of course, believed by many to this day: perhaps Kyle believed it sincerely himself. But the reality is Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th whatsoever. It is difficult to feel Kyle’s actions, however brave they may be, are wholly necessary when the reasons for the US being in Iraq were so dubious in the first place.

Similarly, few non-American viewers could watch this without being struck by the crazy attitude towards guns. Kyle himself is shown being encouraged to use a gun from childhood, he does the same with his own kids. At another point, in what is supposed to be a playful scene, Kyle even jokingly points a (presumably unloaded) gun at his wife, ordering her to “drop her drawers”. His wife is as amused by this as he is; it isn’t even a cautionary scene. But without wishing to spoil anything, the proliferation of guns in US life leads directly to one personal tragedy during the course of the film. This in fact presented as more as down to pure bad luck: the fact that it would never have occurred if the populace were not so heavily armed in the first place, is totally glossed over.

Yet despite the politics, American Sniper is a genuinely good film, a worthy addition to Clint Eastwood’s directorial portfolio and featuring at least two first class performances from Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

DVD extras: One Soldier’s Story: The Journey of American Sniper (30 minute documentary)

Running time: 132 minutes.

Rating: 15.

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Welcome to the Muppet Show…

The Muppet Show returned last week. Or to be more precise, the Republican National Convention met in Tampa, Florida.

For such a stage managed event, it’s surprising how many things went wrong. Most disturbingly and indeed almost unbelievably, some racist Republicans reportedly threw peanuts at a black camerawoman claiming: “This is how we feed animals.” Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan then used his speech to blame the Obama Administration for the closure of a General Motors plant. The truth soon came out: the plant had in fact closed under Bush.

Prospective First Lady Ann Romney was judged to have done well with an appallingly sentimental speech. Remember Sarah Brown’s introduction of her husband Gordon as “my husband, my hero” at the British Labour Party Conference a few years back? Ann Romney’s speech made this look positively restrained by comparison. Indeed, some of Mrs Romney’s attempts to make the ultra-rich Romneys appear normal, barely made sense. “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage,” she said at one point. “Well, let me tell you something. In the storybooks I read, there never were long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once.” Er, no. Okay then…

Mitt himself didn’t mince words either. Recognising the key issue that worries many Americans – how happy was the marriage of Mitt Romney’s late parents – the former Governor of Massachusetts was extremely reassuring. “Mom and Dad were married 64 years,” he said. “And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table.” Never let it be said that Mitt Romney has dodged the all important “parents’ marriage” issue.

The Republican Party is incredibly short on glamour these days. Recognising that they are both extremely unpopular, former President George W Bush and ex-Veep Dick Cheney did not attend the Convention at all. Sarah Palin, the heroine of the Convention, just four years ago, kept her head down too. Hence why Clint Eastwood was given a ten minute speech. Had the ageing star restricted himself to a few simple platitudes: “Obama: make my day” etc, the speech might have passed off successfully.

As it was, the eighty two year old Eastwood rambled, muttering his way through the speech dreadfully. Things got even worse when the actor began speaking to an empty chair, pretending it was occupied by President Obama. Oddly, most of the joke seemed to revolve around the invisible Obama supposedly swearing at Eastwood and telling him to “shut up” (not actually things the President is renowned for doing). Little wonder much of the audience looked on in apparent abject horror. No actor has done such harm to his reputation with a political gesture since the late Charlton Heston started appearing at pro-gun rallies.

But the scariest fact of the whole week remains this: bland as Romney undeniably is, with unemployment still so high in the US, Obama is barely more popular than Romney. Contrary to the prediction in my first blog entry back in March, Romney could actually win in November.