American Sniper - Entertaining Film, Disturbing Book.

american-sniper-poster.png
4star.png

About my rating system

Clint Eastwood delivers another superbly entertaining movie. However, it’s hard to review the movie without considering the source material.

I’ve read other reviews that criticises the film because it shows a one-sided view of Chris Kyle and fails to tackle the politics of the Iraq War. Those reviews don’t seem to understand that the film is based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography, so of course it’s going to be one-sided. As for the politics, anyone who has read the book is in no doubt about Chris Kyle’s politics and his feelings regarding the Iraq War.

Leaving the cinema I felt a lot of sympathy for Chris Kyle and, even though I’m not an American, felt he rightly deserved his label as an American hero. These are not the feelings I had after reading the book.

It’s hard to read the book objectively and not get the opinion that a) he was a complete psychopath who loved killing, and b) he was actually a bit of an arsehole.

That person doesn’t come across in the film. Of course, in a 2 hour movie you don’t have the time to linger on the never-ending sniper kills. In the book you get the feeling that Chris is treating it like a video game - sitting on high picking off one insurgent after the other.

This is also a guy who loved nothing more than going out to bars at weekends and getting into fights with the locals.

The film also fails to adequately capture the tension and arguments between him and his wife. I heard the phrase “God, Country, Family” mentioned once in the movie, whereas in the book it was a continuing focus of dispute, with Chris believing country and patriotism was more important than family, and his wife failing to understand how he can put his country before family. They both agreed that God came first, perhaps telling us a little about the role religion played in their lives.

Where I also take issue with the film is where the screenplay has taken dramatic licence with the story. The central arc of the movie revolves around the battles to capture or kill Mustafa, the deadly Syrian sniper picking off American soldiers. In truth this plays only a small role in the book and Chris Kyle has very little involvement with the missions to capture or kill Mustafa.

Bradley Copper is super as Chris Kyle and rightly deserves his oscar nomination. I was worried that the movie might give Chris more depth and complexity than what came across in the book. In this regard I believe Bradley Cooper’s portrayal was fairly accurate. My takeaway from the book was that Chris was brainwashed. The events of the Embassy bombings and 9/11, perhaps understandably, gave him a single-minded view of the Iraq war being a noble cause to protect Americans at home. There was no mention in the book or film about the dubious politics of the Iraq war. In Chris’s eyes, it was a simple tail of good against evil.

The movie is entertaining, dramatic and full of tense scenes that will leave you on the edge of your seat. However, if you want to understand the real Chris Kyle, read the book, and only then make up your own mind whether he really was an hero or simply a psychopath who was given an opportunity to legally kill hundreds of people.

In Defence of Tom Cruise

I love Tom Cruise. There, I’ve said it. The break-up of Tom-Kat seems to have sparked another round of Tom Cruise bashing in the media. I really don’t understand the crazy tag that got assigned to him after jumping on Oprah Winfrey’s sofa. Why was that such a big deal? What’s wrong with showing a bit of passion?

The other area of criticism is his belief in Scientology. Critics deride this as a cult. They’re probably right, but to me so is Christianity; both involve a heaped tablespoon of delusion. Scientology is all about the money they say. Really, and Christianity isn’t? I’ve been to that blinged-up palace of opulence that they call The Vatican. According to the bible ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 10:25). Tell that to those evangelical TV preachers or the Vatican’s bank manager.

Who knows what Tom Cruise is like in real-life? Who cares? All I know is that his movies are awesome. They may not be up there with Citizen Kane in the usual all-time best movies list, but so what, those lists have nothing to do with the enjoyability quotient of films.

Here’s a list of my top-ten Tom Cruise films:

  1. The Firm
  2. Jerry Maguire
  3. Cocktail
  4. Top Gun
  5. Risky Business
  6. Mission Impossible
  7. Collateral
  8. A Few Good Men
  9. Mission: Impossible 3
  10. Minority Report

See, I haven't even included Rain Man in the top ten and yet Rain Man is a great film

His films are enjoyable, memorable and quotable. There’s hardly a day goes by when I don’t say to Lauren ‘Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full’ in response to any one of her ‘Daddy can I please…’.

He’s not immune to the odd dud movie. Vanilla Sky was extremely misjudged, Days of Thunder gets called Top Gun on wheels but it’s no where near as good, and All the Right Moves, one of his early movies, is very forgettable. Mission Impossible 2 was an abomination. They should have never let John Woo anywhere near it.

Eyes Wide Shut gets a lot of criticism but I don’t mind it. Despite the strange, drawn-out dialogue, I found the plot quite compelling, if not a little weird. I didn’t like Magnolia the first time I watched it but it has since grown on me.

The Outsiders is a great adaptation of a modern classic novel, and I loved TAPS when I watched it as a teenager. War of the Worlds is good as is Born on the Fourth of July - a performance deserving of his Academy Award nomination.

A few of his films are watchable but a bit ordinary: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Knight and Day, Valkyrie, Lions for Lambs, The Last Samurai, and Interview with a Vampire I would put in this category.

Tom Cruise was the best and perhaps only good thing about Tropic Thunder.

I haven’t seen Rock of Ages yet but it looks good fun, and I’m really looking forward to Jack Reacher.

There’s still a few more that I haven’t mentioned but that just goes to show what a great back-catalogue he has.

So leave off!

The Descendants (2011)

the-descendants.jpg
The Descendants (2011)
The Descendants (2011)

Occasionally you sit down to a film with no expectations and from as little as a minute into the film you know you’re going to love it. So was the case with The Descendants.

From the opening narration in which he explains that living in paradise doesn’t necessarily mean that life is paradise, George Clooney is captivating in the role of Matt King, a descendant of one of Hawaii’s first white land-owning families.

Matt’s extended family, which is spread across the Hawaii islands, has a decision to make as to whether to sell a large plot of highly desirable beachfront virgin forest on Kauai to developers, who will inevitably open it up for tourist development.

Most of the family have already made their mind up. To them it’s a no-brainer - the sale will make them all rich. However, as the sole trustee of the land, Matt has the ultimate responsibility to make the final decision - a decision that forces him to consider the opposing views of his family and the islanders who want the land to remain unspoilt. This is all at the same time as facing a personal crisis.

At the beginning of the film we see that Matt’s wife is involved in a water skiing accident which puts her in a coma. This forces Matt to effectively become a single parent to his two daughters, one of whom is the teenager Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who returns from boarding school with a bad attitude.

The bad attitude is borne out of resentment; resentment for her father who up until then has always put his business before his family, and resentment for her mother who, unbeknownst to Matt, has been having an affair with another man.

Rocked by his wife’s accident, Matt’s world comes crashing down once again when Alexandra blurts out the truth about his wife. This devastating, dramatic moment for the main character actually sets the stage for one of the films funniest scenes, as George Clooney, looking completely un-cool in high-waisted khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirt, slips on a pair of thongs (flip-flops) and runs down the mountain to challenge the friends of his wife who must have known about the affair. If you’ve ever attempted to run in thongs you can imagine how ungainly this looks.

If I tell you that The Descendants is written and directed by Alexander Payne, who previously wrote and directed another favourite of mine - Sideways, you may know that you’re not just getting a moving, family drama. A wonderful black humour ripples throughout this movie, at times blending tragedy and hilarity within the same scene.

The bulk of the story follows Matt moving around the Hawaii islands attempting to track down his wife’s lover, at the same time as trying to deal with his unruly daughter and her brain-dead friend Sid, who is the source for many of the laughs throughout the film. The carefully crafted script ensures that the business, family and emotional troubles are tied together expertly in the final scenes.

The movie is scored throughout with beautiful, soft, Hawaiian music - the kind of music you want to listen to whilst sat at a beach bar on a tropical paradise island watching the sun descend over the horizon.

After watching a lot of films lately which were, frankly, disappointing, it was a joy to sit down to something which gripped me from beginning to end. George Clooney fully deserves his Oscar nomination for this film.