I have neither seen the movie American Sniper nor read the book upon which it is based, but nearly everything I have read about the movie seems to indicate the tortured self of Chris Kyle as portrayed by Bradley Cooper (very movingly depicted in promos on TV) is utterly false. Director Clint Eastwood has drawn much criticism for what he brought to the screen.

For instance here on Salon Sophia McClennen equates Eastwood’s product with the often misleading efforts of FOX News.

McClennen faults the film for both suggesting a non-existent link of the Iraq War to the 9/11 attacks and to the culture of violence she claims is part of the right wing agenda.

If the movie is meant as a metaphor for the torment suffered by many American troops, so be it, but taking a real person and ascribing such emotions to him when he did not exhibit them in real life leaves one wondering whether this is an exercise in a form of propaganda.

Eastwood, as is any filmmaker, is entitled to present his personal point of view, but the movie is a box office hit which means that viewers are left with a distorted opinion of an important figure, at least symbolically, in recent American history.

As one who prefers historical accuracy to white-washed reviews I find this more troubling than the supposed misrepresentation of LBJ’s role in the Civil Rights movement as portrayed in Selma. Johnson himself is bigger than life with many different interpretations possible and the crimes of omission here in the movie are more than atoned for in the historical record and do not affect the substance of the movie.

While it is popular among critics to nit pick the inaccuracies in movies about real events, one must always keep in mind neither of these films purports to be a documentary. Many directors among the Pantheon have produced legendary works of true stories while straying from the literal truth. The reasons for this diversion can be simply for dramatic effect and efficiency in story telling. It can be that the director’s vision is seen through his own unique lens that enables him to see elements of the story others cannot and he wants to provoke thought about his subject.

And it may be that he wants to make a political point no matter how much the tale he employs for that purpose does not justify that treatment.

Is that the situation with Eastwood here? I cannot even hazard a guess. Eastwood’s bona fides as a director are secure,  dovetailing from his acting career as often an iconoclastic loner on the edge of outlawry while being the hero, in a way tracks what the thrust of potshots at American Sniper entail.

What disturbs me aside from the deviance from fact itself—again it is not a documentary—is that it feeds into a certain mindset that has resulted in nothing but trouble for not only the nation itself but for the thousands of basically good Americans who, if they survived their deployments at all, survived them only at great physical and mental and emotional cost. Presenting Chris Kyle as one of the latter when it appears he was anything but emotionally damaged by his service is unfair to those who legitimately suffered and continue to do so.

On the other hand Selma’s fibs, if you will, are a minor distraction in the narrative of one of the great moral movements in American history.

The war in Iraq and morality are mutually exclusive.

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  • toadsly  On January 28, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    I see movies to be entertained; not educated. ” American Sniper ” is brilliant, slick filmaking. It doesn’t mirror the truth; that’s now apparent. A wise man might posit: “Believe nothing you see or hear, in a movie theater.”

    • umoc193  On January 29, 2015 at 1:57 AM

      I basically agree with you. I noted myself these films were not documentaries. However, when told they are based on real circumstances many many audience members cannot discern that they are not completely factual.

      The question then becomes whether the movie serves a greater purpose than the literal truth or might more properly be placed in the category akin to the TV series law And Order which mirrored real life tales but did not purport to be telling those exact stories.

      The problem as I see it with Sniper and not with Selma is that the former is much closer to us in history and, I believe, at least in part presented to stimulate discussion of the war. Those like me who opposed the war perhaps are too ready to find any fault with the film where it strays, while those who favored it may use the distortions to justify the unjustifiable.

      And if you’ve been paying attention to various media, the movie has stimulated more discussion than the average movie, even a biopic.

      • toadsly  On January 29, 2015 at 11:21 AM

        I opposed the war but still enjoyed the film and admire the bravery of our troops.

  • Tourist  On January 29, 2015 at 4:18 PM

    Lies, damned lies, artistic license and agendas.

    The first two Harry Potter movies were quite faithful to the books. The next six were not. Fans differ. But where the movies went their own way, it was never the case that they distorted the truth.

    Ciejai showed me that a movie may/should/must diverge from the book; that they are different art forms and that the movie must first be a good movie. “Apocalypse Now” is a great movie. I like that they didn’t call it “Heart of Darkness.”

    In “The Right Stuff” movie, Chuck Yeager and Jack Ridley begin as captains, finish as colonels, journey through their slice of history together. When Yeager takes the NF-104 up at the end, it is entirely appropriate, as well as visually magnificent and emotionally satisfying, that Ridley is there, part of it, even though at the time of the flight Ridley had been dead for six years. That’s artistic license.

    It’s one thing to know that it’s done.

    Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton and Gordon Cooper were test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base together. Michael Collins, Frank Borman and Jim Irwin were in the same test pilot class at Edwards. The better-known of those two facts is false. It streamlines a movie. It’s a lie. It distorts history with a small “h.”

    I don’t know exactly what “Selma” does to LBJ. A recently published defense of it says: “I have to agree that it does distort history, making Johnson into more of a villain than seems justified by the historical record as it exists. And I believe doing so was a correct and necessary choice . . . . [I]n Selma, we finally have a Hollywood feature film that distorts history in precisely the opposite direction — a long overdue, and very welcome, choice and effect.”

    Uh, no. LBJ was History with a capital “H.” Distorting it because others have sounds like an agenda beyond making a good movie. If I see it, I might agree that, overall, this was a misdemeanor – yet why was it necessary? Lying to win is why we are where we are in the first place. The defense is worse than the offense. “You lie!” “Have to!”

    The comment thread to that article is good both ways. The author joins in.

    Will the real Chris Kyle please stand up? I’d probably enjoy this movie, too. I liked “Rambo” and “Patton” and “Gandhi.”

    Lies, damned lies, artistic license or agenda?

    It depends.

Please give me your thoughts.

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