January 21, 2015
Cooper earned Oscar nominations the last two years for playing wiry, jittery Atlantic seaboard Italian-Americans, in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. Here, Cooper nails his characterization of a bulky, cheerful, slow-walking Texas trigger-puller whose remarkably stable psyche is being slowly worn away by his four tours of duty in Iraq. The star maintains a Gary Cooper-like stoicism that’s compulsively watchable.
The less plausible parts of Kyle’s book are left out of the movie, such as the bar anecdote that outraged former professional wrestler and Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura into a successful libel lawsuit. Now that American Sniper is a Best Picture contender, you”ll be hearing about this a lot. Yet last year’s Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave, had serious problems with its main character’s credibility”the historical record suggests he was a con man running the old skin game“but for some reason that didn”t interest the press.
Jason Hall’s moving screenplay could have used a little more gun porn tech talk, in the manner of the ode to the .44 Magnum that Milius wrote for Eastwood in Dirty Harry. The movie makes being a sniper looks easier and safer, more like a video game, than it actually is. The film leaves out adjustments for windage and elevation. Most important, it ignores the sniper’s constant trade-off of how much of himself to expose to enemy fire, as most notably laid out in the climactic sniper v. sniper duel in William Manchester’s memoir of the Pacific War and PTSD, Goodbye, Darkness.
There’s much buzz in the media that the success of American Sniper exposes the Red State/Blue State cultural divide. After all, liberals hate guns, right?
But the Academy gave six Oscar nominations to the movie last week even before its huge weekend (which means that for once many people will have a rooting interest in the Academy Awards broadcast). Why?
My vague impression is that many Hollywood liberals, such as Milius’s old buddy Spielberg (a Fabbri shotgun man), are”just as you would guess from their movies, although not from their political statements”gun nuts. The late Charlton Heston observed: “I suspect, in fact, there are more Hollywood filmmakers who are closet gun enthusiasts than there are closet homosexuals.”
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