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SHORT TAKES ON FILM
Ben Nyce | Via Latina

 

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“American Sniper” has surprisingly become a huge hit. Evidently the viewing public has not tired of our endless involvements in Iraq. Instead what appears to be happening is that the film has caused renewed reflection on the price paid for such involvement. The sacrifices of our soldiers are recalled as well as their courage and skill. The Bush regime’s efforts to downplay the return of coffins from Iraq (like Putin’s efforts in Ukraine) have dissipated. We look again at the war and its consequences.

The film is a strong depiction of the war and its human costs. Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle the American expert sniper who made 160 kills. We’re shown his meticulous training, involving much more than marksmanship. As a kid he hunted with his dad and learned basic hunting skills: patience, calmness, cool-headedness. A sniper fires one shot while other soldiers fill the air with bursts from their automatic weapons. From his elevated shooting position Kyle comes to think of himself as indispensable to his fellow soldiers on the ground – and they validate his view, seeing him as a hero. He can’t let go of his role and keeps going back to the fight in spite of his wife’s increasingly unhappy reaction to his absence.

He also dislikes his role above the fray and descends to street level fighting. Like many soldiers his feeling of camaraderie keeps pulling him back. The war scenes are filmed by director Clint Eastwood with powerful immediacy. There are numerous shots through Kyle’s scope as he puts the cross hairs on a target, and perhaps the most common shot in Eastwood’s films of the finger beginning to press on the trigger. At one point he mutters to himself as a young boy picks up a bomb “set it down.” He has just shot the boy’s mother. The camera puts us in the vortex of bomb blasts, smoke and carnage. The adrenaline rush is addictive to Kyle. He begins to show signs of PTSD at home, at one point waving a hand gun around in the house. Finally he tells his wife (on the phone in the heat of battle!) that he’s had enough. At the end he seems to have recovered some balance. He’s going to help another disturbed vet by taking him out target shooting. It’s a tragedy that in real life this vet shoots and kills the real Chris Kyle. “American Sniper” does a fine job of dramatizing the allure and the costs of combat.

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For home viewing, see Michael Roemer’s powerful depiction of southern racism “Nothing but A Man” (1967). Ivan Dixon plays Duff a proud young black man who refuses to kowtow to the white establishment and finds himself in constant economic peril. His wife played by Abby Lincoln gives him love and support in spite of opposition by her preacher father who advises “go along to get along.” All the minor roles are wonderfully cast – especially Duff’s genial black buddies. It’s one of American’s cinematic gems. Is it possible that it was written by two white writers, Roemer and Robert Young?

Nyce taught literature and film at USD and authored “Satyajit Ray” and “Scorcese Up Close.”


 

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