Reactions to recent posts have had an unintended consequence of making me believe you wouldn’t mind reading more about my military related struggles with the hopes of understanding your less talkative family members’ own strife (using the timely film American Sniper as a vessel). I am flattered and have decided to accept the charge. As you’ll see, though, while I began doing it with you in mind, I gained a clarity relevant to my own life. I saw how this challenge will help me. So that’s why I’m really doing it. But I believe that help is help is help, and that means if it helps me, it might help someone else. So here we go. Together.
Today I’ll set the stage with my criteria for the film review. Throughout the rest of the week we’ll get into the nitty gritty.
A magazine writing course taught the importance of asking yourself what your article, your story, is about about. Lucky for you and I, I recently came across a movie review that put that concept a bit more clearly. “It’s not what [the story’s] about. It’s how it’s about it.”
American Sniper is about PTSD. There should be no argument there. How does Eastwood go about PTSD? Lazily. Embarrassingly so. (Want a movie that doesn’t go about PTSD lazily? Check out David Ayer’s Harsh Times.)
Sniper’s story is fairly straightforward. There’s this tragedy that is inconceivable. Top US sniper Chris Kyle who only recently is beginning to overcome PTSD’s effects is killed by a veteran he was helping to overcome PTSD. Though you don’t find this out until just before the credits roll.
Surprise endings don’t do it for me. They never have. Consequently, I don’t mind spoiling this movie because the issue–PTSD–far outweighs any entertainment value that the surprise ending provides. Let’s be honest, movies don’t change the world anyhow. Stories do. And for me, if a story relies on a surprise ending for strength, besides being lazy, its power is diminished upon each subsequent telling. This thinking inevitably leads to: any story that loses power with each telling isn’t worth telling in the first place. (Test the Greatest Story if you don’t like my thinking.) But again, it’s not Sniper’s story that is lazy (powerless), it’s Eastwood’s telling of it–how he went about it.
Maybe I’ve just seen more movies than most folks, but I was bored during the first half of the film. For most of it really. Not because I’ve been there or done that. But because every other recent contemporary war movie has been there or done that, and in most cases done it better. Two examples stand out prominently. The Hurt Locker for juxtaposition of home life vs. deployed life (ref cereal debate) and Zero Dark Thirty for realism (ref “Usama…Usama” whisper). As moviegoers, we’re not in a vacuum. Eastwood should’ve known better. He had a story that is so inherently powerful there was no reason to tell it in such a way that places it alongside those two films in my mind. Yet there it sits. Rather than do the story right, he (lazily) chose to compete and he loses. Like my brother often says, “It would have been a good movie…if every other movie hadn’t already come out.” In my words, American Sniper is a lazy telling of a story whose intended audience deserves better.
Outline For The Week:
Tuesday – Was it relevant that he had more confirmed kills than any other sniper?
Wednesday – Never mind how I felt while I watched the funeral procession, how do I feel now?
Thursday – But, then, what do I know? I don’t have PTSD.
Friday – Or do I?