We could be talking about any movie right now. We could be revisiting the varied pop culture phenomena newly recognized as Oscar contenders by the Motion Picture Academy of America — diving back into Boyhood with renewed expressions of wonder, or reviving the delighted surprise incurred by Whiplash. If the short attention spans intrinsic to the emperors of our contemporary conversations demands commitment to more recent theatrical release, then why not Selma? Surely there’s plenty to explore and dissect with a story that so vividly reflects the racial disharmonies of America both in the 1960s and today. But lo and behold, with all these options, all anyone can talk about is American Sniper.
Part of the reason is because it’s all anyone seems to be seeing right now: the film busted seasonal and monthly records with a $90 million opening weekend (resting it comfortably between Skyfall and The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which itself is bananas). But it’s not just the fans going on about Clint Eastwood’s latest film; in fact, the fans aren’t even the ones dominating the conversation. No, it’s the detractors. Those critics vying to weigh down American Sniper’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, those celebrities hoping to supplant the movie’s victory run with some negative publicity, or those ordinary folks who just can’t resist waxing poetic on just how much they hated the thing.
So why does American Sniper have this many people so riled up? Well, there are a lot of reasons. The real question: Which reason has us all the most ticked off?
The stark divide in our country's political alignments necessitates some pretty drastic enmity shooting constantly in both directions. When a movie espouses a particular political agenda, for instance, it's all the other side can do to keep from condemning the film as an act of toxic manipulation.
Seth Rogen (now an icon of international politics in his own right) chided the movie for an ambiance reminiscent of Nazi propaganda:
Some high-profile critiques hauled in the wake of Sniper eluded the film altogether, instead attacking the political scope inherent to its subject matter... all par for the course for one particularly vocal party, Michael Moore.
All this from a movie that star Bradley Cooper insists is "not political."
Stepping beyond political inclination, we approach an even more volatile accusation: that of abject racism in the illustration of its Iraqi characters. In keeping with the real Chris Kyle's autobiography, American Sniper commits to the repeated reference to the Iraqi people as "savages," showing many to be nothing shy of such.
Stories like this one by writer Rania Khalek dive into the film's treatment of Iraqi characters, drumming up Kyle's source material as an even larger culprit of anti-Iraqi racism.
Other People's Opinions
Rule of thumb: The only thing that gets people madder than "stuff" is "what other people have to say about stuff." Reactions to widespread castigations like those mentioned above have been plentiful, both from the general public and from some well-known names on the other side of the spectrum.
The Blind Hatred
The most curious source of enmity for American Sniper comes from an interesting community: those who haven't even seen the movie. No shortage of essays have been penned defaming the movie for crimes their authors only suspect Eastwood's film of committing.
CNN writer Karen Spears Zacharias claimed that American Sniper is a movie that glorifies war, and New Republic writer Dennis Jett stated with confidence that the film paints too positive a picture of Chris Kyle. In each article, the author admitted to not having seen the film. But on that last point...
In this age of "What _____ Gets Wrong About _____" articles, questions of historical accuracy are impossible to avoid for any true story-based film (just look at all the heat Selma has taken for offering a slightly contorted image of LBJ in the interest of making a very important point).
Be the issue with the depiction of Chris Kyle himself or the Iraq War in general, backlash amounts.
At the end of the day, some of the derision for American Sniper hails from the school of Jay Sherman: simply, "It stinks!" Ah, good old fashioned quality-based hatred.
The Fake Baby
The magnum opus of American Sniper criticism: the irrationally loud outcries against the horribly fake baby show in the latter half of the film. Yes, it's an embarrassingly poor looking model. No, this isn't the issue of the movie we should be focusing on... but yes, I totally get why it is the issue of the movie that we are focusing on. It's hilarious.
And in a world where American Sniper beats out Selma for a Best Actor nomination and tops it at the box office by $70 million, we could use a little fake baby-inspired levity.
Images: Warner Bros. (8)