Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary War Movies’

My movie watching has gone down quite a bit in the past two years after I started watching TV shows seriously. So, this week I thought I will do the Oscar thing-y – watch all the movies that have been shortlisted for the Oscars this year and write about them. I hope it will put my movie watching back on track. 

The first movie I watched was ‘American Sniper’. An odd choice for the first movie, given all the controversies that it has been surrounded by – including the fact that the Academy dumped Martin Luther King for a sniper character for the ‘Best Actor’ nomination (If you hate this movie for this or other reasons or if you want to hate this movie, you should read this article). But I love Clint Eastwood and so I thought I will give this a try. 

American Sniper Directed By Clint Eastwood

‘American Sniper’ is based on the life of an actual American sniper called Chris Kyle, who worked in Iraq. The movie shows his life since he was a boy – how his dad inspires him to fight for others and teaches him how to use a hunting rifle, how he becomes a cowboy but then decides to enlist in the navy and becomes a SEAL and a sniper, how Navy SEAL training is hard, how in the final days of his training he meets a girl in a bar and how they both fall in love and get married and how as soon as he gets married he has to leave on a tour of Iraq. Most of the rest of the movie is about his subsequent tours of Iraq, the dangers he and other army soldiers face there and his time back home during vacation when he finds civilian life hard to adjust to. The movie ends with him retiring from the army and coming back home to his family. (A subtitle in the end says that he was killed by a veteran whom he was trying to help.) 

‘American Sniper’ covers most of the same ground that was covered by ‘The Hurt Locker’, the only difference being that the main character in ‘The Hurt Locker’ defuses bombs while the main character in ‘American Sniper’ kills enemy combatants. But otherwise the locations, the camaraderie in the army, the bombs, the friends who get killed, the psychological trauma, the difficulty that a soldier has in adjusting to civilian life and how he yearns to go back to the warfront – these were all depicted in a way similar to how it was done in ‘The Hurt Locker’. So, in that sense, there was nothing new in this movie. Part of the story is about how our hero tries to hunt down an enemy sniper. The enemy sniper is nameless and he wears black and is just depicted as a bad guy. This was much better done in ‘Enemy at the Gates’ in which Ed Harris comes as a German sniper in the Second World War and he is a much better fleshed out and cool character. In fact the whole sniper thing was depicted way better in ‘Enemy at the Gates’. Most of the Iraqis in ‘American Sniper’ are shown as bad guys – even women and children don’t hesitate to pick up a grenade and throw it at the American army vehicles and sometimes they even take up a rocket launcher and fire it. It is a very simplistic and Hollywood-ish generalization and interpretation of a whole country and it makes one cringe.

The scenes depicting the difficulty that Chris Kyle faces in adjusting to civilian life are also well trodden ground. Others have done it before and they have done it better. For example, the film ‘Return’ is about the life of a woman solider and it handles the ‘difficult-to-adjust’ part quite well. From a literary perspective, Erich Maria Remarque in his book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ has said everything that needs to be said on this topic. Others can only repeat.

Return Directed By Liza Johnson

My favourite scene in the movie is the one in which Chris Kyle meets Taya at the bar and they have an interesting conversation and subsequently fall in love. It is an odd choice for a favourite scene in what is mostly a war movie but I am a fan of the quieter moments most of the time. Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and Sienna Miller as Taya are perfect. Another of my favourite scenes is the one in which Taya calls Chris (who is in the warfront) after coming out of the hospital and tells him that their pregnant child is a boy. Chris is travelling with other soldiers when he gets the call and while he is happy with the news, there is shooting and then there is an explosion and he and his mates get their guns to return the fire and he drops his phone and Taya hears all the shouting and the screaming and the firing and the explosion and she doesn’t hear Chris’ voice and she doesn’t know whether he is alive or dead and she is in front of the hospital and she is pregnant and she doesn’t know what to do.

So what is my verdict on ‘American Sniper’? I think it moves through mostly well trodden ground and so most of the story sounds repetitive and something which we have seen somewhere else and especially something which we have seen better articulated artistically elsewhere. The fascinating thing about the movie is that most of the events actually happened. But if we ignore that fact, I would say that it is an entertaining war movie, but probably not the finest example of its genre. I think it got really lucky to get into the Oscar nominees list.

I wanted to write about something else here – something about which I have been thinking for a while, and something about which other movie fans I have talked to have been having similar thoughts. My straightforward comparison of ‘American Sniper’ wouldn’t be with other contemporary war movies but would be with the TV series ‘Homeland’. ‘Homeland’ treads most of the same ground but it is much better done – the plot is tight and gripping, the characters are more fleshed out, the scenes are intense, the dialogue is sparkling and there is style and class in the way it tells its story. One might disagree with the politics depicted in it, but it is hard to ignore it as a work of art. It is much better than any war movie that I have seen recently. Now the question that I wanted to ponder on was this – is the excellence of ‘Homeland’, when compared to recent war movies, because of the extra time it has to tell its story? (The first three seasons of ‘Homeland’ have one long plot and they come to a total of 36 hours.) Is that the difference between a good war movie and a not-so-good one – the time available to tell the story? Would ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’ been better movies if they had been longer? What do you think? 

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