TAKING AIM AT AMERICAN SNIPER (2015) AND CLINT EASTWOOD

recently took aim at Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2015) referring to it as two-dimensional hero-worshiping of a psychopath. True to form, Maher immediately drew the indignation of monosyllabic patriots like Sarah “let’s kill wolves from a copter, ‘cause it’s fun” Palin.

The National Glorification of Snipers Association was equally up in arms, proving Maher wrong with their “This film has made 200 gazillion dollars. The people have spoken!” [insert gavel sound] Of course, we may look at this as another illustration of Maher’s ongoing insistence that, by and large, Americans really are a stupid lot. After all, we love to throw our dyed green paper at anything that is merchandised to us, without scrutiny. We transformed the Scooby Doo Movie (2002) and Mel’s homophobe capitalist Messiah (Passion Of The Christ) into sacred, dumbed-down box office gold.

Clint Eastwood in Kelly's HeroesPerhaps the most nauseating example of a perpetually bored, illiterate American audience is its ongoing love affair with Clint Eastwood. It is tempting to write that I have lived long enough to see the actor turn into a 200-year-old blithering idiot. However, the fallacy in such a statement is that Eastwood has always been a blithering idiot who preaches to his choir of extremist right-wing Neanderthals and empty chairs (which are actually one and the same).

Criticizing such a fossilized institution as good old boy Clint might be tantamount to questioning the Old Pie in the Sky himself, or Dale “he died for our Budweiser sins” Earnhardt. Take your pick.

However, Clint and his generation of camouflaged hayseed worshipers should receive credit where credit is due, and one of those initial credits came from The Duke himself. , of all people, once criticized Eastwood’s brand of hyper-realistic violence. Wayne argued that while the Westerns he had made with John Ford were violent, they used stylized violence. Wayne clearly found Eastwood’s variety of fetishistic fascism to be a disturbing glorification of carnage. That is, until Wayne (or his agent) noticed all the ticket-booth silver being dolled out by the yokels to see their stoic, cinematic sociopath in action. Wayne, hypocrite that he was, then spent the rest of what little career remained appearing in pale Eastwood imitations, such as The Cowboys (1972) and McQ (1974).

Eastwood can and should also be give credit for having sucked all the mythological poetry out of the western; a poetry so carefully nurtured as “the Great American Art Form” by the likes of John Ford, Howard Hawks, , , and, above all—Aaron Copland.

In place of a sweeping, stirring, panoramic landscape, Eastwood and company gave us nihilistic sadism served up in a red, white, and blue pastiche. While the westerns with Sergio Leone had a sense of style, once Eastwood divorced from his mentor he soon fell into a pit of caricature.

A shockingly banal resume followed: woefully predictable pulp tripe (1973’s High Plains Drifter), unintentional comedy with staggeringly risible dialogue (1976’s Outlaw Josey Wales) or Eastwood walking corpse-like through a sophomoric rip-off (1985’s Pale Rider) of a pedestrian mythology that wasn’t good to begin with (1965’s Shane).

Far worse were the non-westerns that began, like the Leone films, with a director of some competence.  helmed Dirty Harry (1971) and his sense of direction is the only thing tolerable in this tyrannical, blood-soaked bourgeoisie arena. For his part Eastwood proved his facial muscles were just as immobile in contemporary garb.

The “Dirty Harry” Callahan sequels were even more shockingly hackneyed, with anonymous direction wallowing through a charnel house-like bijou. Eastwood himself directed one of them like a misogynistic cartoon (1983’s Sudden Impact), which paved the way for exploitative pornography (1984’s Tightrope) and homophobic grunts representing our armed forces (1986’s Heartbreak Ridge).

Occasionally, Eastwood tried something different, often falling flat with lamebrain comedic efforts to appease his target audience (Every Which Way But Loose, Any Which Way you Can, and Pink Cadillac). He fared better turning himself over to Siegel’s dramatic direction (1979’s Escape From Alcatraz), but was howlingly inept as the center of an Atari game (1982’s Firefox) and emulating really old geezers embarking on a star trek (2000’s Space Cowboys).

He was more successful (although never entirely) with smaller efforts: in front of and behind the camera in the surprising Play Misty For Me, waxing nostalgic in Bronco Billy, indulging his passion for jazz in Bird, playing in one of his better films White Hunter, Black Heart, managing schmaltz in Bridges of Madison County, and letting others take center stage in A Perfect World, Mystic River, Flags Of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, ChangelingInvictus, and J. Edgar.

The Academy Awards congratulated itself by giving the archaic fixture an award for Unforgiven (1992), although its pseudo-reflectiveness amounted to a washed-up drunk who only paradoxically came to life pulling a trigger. His Gran Torino (2008) attempted a different solution in making a martyr of a bigot with violent humor. It might have served as a coda.

Late in his career, Eastwood has often been compared to the likes of John Ford. While Ford himself was a wildly uneven director, he could produce something approaching poetry. Eastwood simply does not have it in him. He can and occasionally does reveal more depth of craftsmanship behind the camera than he ever has in front of it, but being more like John Huston than he probably imagines, Eastwood is also given to equal parts sloppiness. Cue his 21st century realistic western, American Sniper, which is based on Chris Kyle’s bestselling autobiography.

Still from American Sniper (2014)It could easily have been titled “Passion of W’s Homeboy.” Eastwood and his team of superior craftsmen (writer Jason Hall, cinematographer Tom Stern, editors Joel Cox & Gary Roach, art directors Harry Otto & Dean Wolcott, and composers Joseph Debeasi & Clint Eastwood) have pulled out their star-spangled bullhorn to sell us the ideology of 9/11 wedded to the Iraq War.

Predictably, the rustic trailer park boys, who probably do not get out often to visit the silver screen, have responded in droves, arriving in the same dusty buses they took to see Mel’s two-fisted desert deity. Eastwood’s locals desperately need an assuring savior to confirm the sanctity of their double-wide creed. Like most fundamentalists, they are not apt to actually access the sacred scrolls. That would be too much effort, because St. W himself denied the marriage of Saddam and Osama on more than one occasion. Rather, it is simpler to adorn oneself in fatigues and genuflect at the concession stand.

Eastwood delivers a shrewdly manipulative, polished gospel, shorn of messier matter. Never mind that it is the cinematic equivalent of the Boss’ “Born in the USA,” containing some anti-war sentiments in a pro-military ribbon. Like ol’ Methuselah himself (Ronnie Reagan), Clint’s congregants are not likely to process the lyrics.

A beefed up Bradley Cooper, taking the route of a Brandoesque jingoist, and barmaid Sierra Miller serve as icons. Indeed, a sliver of good work can be found in the acting here, amidst the rural angst.

The son of a pious WASP, Kyle is indoctrinated. His bullseye is a portrait of unadulterated, black and white evil. Political nuances are skimmed over, which conveniently renders Eastwood’s opus apathetic enough to be box office gold.

Maher’s assessment was spot-on: Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker (2008) already covered this terrain with considerably more substance, but Kyle’s indoctrinated disciples do not desire a concept. Rather, they merely crave a compilation. That goes down easier with popcorn.

14 thoughts on “TAKING AIM AT AMERICAN SNIPER (2015) AND CLINT EASTWOOD”

  1. Dang, you’d really think that, in this day and age, mindless, uncritical hero-worship would’ve died down just a little.

    1. Ur missing the point of my argument….exactly! His website is “weird movies”. Stick to the topic and dont go off the res to critique your standard American fare that gives you an opportunity to show how superior you are. So if anyone is out of line given the domain topic its the original author!

      Now Mr Eaker just exposed himself as sophmoric and puerile with the review of American Sniper. And I thought his reviews of “weird movies” were entertaining prior to that.

      Kinda like the actors when they think their art and status gives them the venue to go on and on about politics, left or right.

  2. I think its odd that even most of the more derisive reviews of this film try to describe Clint Eastwood’s directorial approach as being morally ambiguous and competent while going at length at the reprehensibly xenophobic content of the source material.

    I think Dirty Harry would be a great movie if it was remade as a horror movie.

  3. I am not a big fan of Clint Eastwood and I don’t like war movies either, but I can’t help thinking that if anyone here being nauseating, it’s the author himself.
    “blithering idiot”, “blithering idiot who preaches to his choir of extremist right-wing Neanderthals”, “variety of fetishistic fascism “…
    And what do you think you are, Mr. Eaker? Another blubbering, left-wing self-asserting moron spitting pseudo-intellectual feels-good nonsense with false sense of superiority , dreaming to be seen, read and recognized?
    Does this sound right to you?

  4. And I bet YOU voted for Obama along with Maher! Now you simply sound like a pseudo intellectual and a dilettante, waxing on about your superior view of the world versus the stupid American public.

    You review eclectic movies and apparently at a very advanced age, and youre gonna act all sanctimonious about your moral and intellectual superiority over Clint Eastwood and the general American public? REALLY!!!!!!

    366weirdmovies.com is a much greater contribution to the world and society???? Hmmm

    1. You guys are free to disagree with the review, of course, but simply saying the tone was too harsh and calling the author a lefty isn’t an argument.

  5. Standard disclaimer: Mr. Eaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of 366weirdmovies.com, its sponsors or affiliates.

    Specifically, Eastwood unquestionably did deserve the Oscar for Unforgiven.

    Politics is off-topic around here (we’ll continue to focus on weird movies), but the occasional digression is OK. Al is Al; he has a strong personality and his political beliefs are a huge part of that, and that is necessarily going to come out from time to time. Political rhetoric as a genre is deliberately overblown; no one should take it too seriously.

  6. Author disclaimer (for 366′ sake): it seems some readers have jumped to an erroneous assumption that the criticism here is birthed from a politically leftist perspective. For the sake of clarification, I am neither leftist nor Democrat. In the political realm, I have voted and continue to vote for peoples of both parties (That is, when I do make it out and vote for people to “govern” me). My writing and perspective are far more influenced and shaped by theology and art, as opposed to Western political affiliation.

    Like most people, I have both progressive and conservative views and strongly resist being boxed into “EITHER/OR” labels. While advocating progressive reform wedded with conservative ethics (conservative meaning to conserve-moderation), I take issue with right-wing excesses/extremisms because they are hardly conservative. In the same breath, I take issue with left-wing extremities because that is hardly progressive.

    However, my critique is a pronounced aesthetic one. Eastwood’s oeuvre is inevitably an artless one. His “conservatism” is artistically and ethically bankrupt. Rather, it is often militantly right-wing, which inevitably bleeds into a woefully dense body of work.

    Eastwood’s acting simply cannot compare to that of John Wayne. Wayne, who as everyone knows, was in private life, a blatant right-winger. Yet, he could be a marvelous, vastly underrated actor, giving powerhouse, nuanced performances even in questionable films (“The Cowboys”).

    On the other hand, Eastwood is a far superior director. When Wayne was behind the lens, the outcome was godawful on a legendary level (” The Green Berets” and “The Alamo”).

    Yet, even in that capacity, Eastwood lacks the poetry and aesthetic sensibility of a John Ford or Budd Boetticher. This does not mean Eastwood is incapable of good, competent work. His “White Hunter, Black Heart,” is an underrated film. His “Flags Of our Fathers” and “Letters of Iwo Jima” may be among the best in that genre.

    Like any of us, Eastwood is not above criticism. It is both artistically and morally wrongheaded to pedestal him, or view him as an institution.

    While “American Sniper” is capably lensed, and well acted, it is a simple-minded, ultimately glorifying portrait of a personality who is only known for having killed people from a distance in an unethical military endeavor. On any given day, we can open a random news feed and find a dozen articles to find such glorification to be reckless, irresponsible, and bankrupt in authentic, conservative virtues, which is rather nonsensically hypocritical, especially from a conservative POV. Naturally, this factors as well into its artistic assessment, as it must.

    I stand by Maher being correct in assessing “Hurt Locker” as an artistically and morally superior film.

    For the record, I criticized Maher himself in my article on “Religulous.”

    * 366 Weird Movies is a site I write for. It is not my site. I do not exclusively write about weird movies because that would render us as edgeless, predictably one-note, and deprived of aesthetic toes (thus, we would no longer be weird, merely trendy in creating our own status quo brand).

    Rather, we categorize my writing as fringe, for the sake of clarity and because regardless of how unorthodox we claim to be, most of us tend to desire categories. In addition to weird movies, I also write on silent films, beautiful films, and director retrospectives, which this falls in the category of.

  7. I’m leaving the politics out of the ring. I was just wanting to discuss the content of the film, to be honest. Though it seems that the political heat surrounding it is inescapable(Selma is also a film that seems to be enveloped in this didactically-charged discourse in film criticism that makes me feel highly apprehensive on seeing either of these films until the controversy evaporates).

    And along with his always thoughtfully-written retorts, I think Eaker makes a salient point that even I can occasionally forget with my favorite inspirational figures: Turning a regular man, as susceptible to human error as any, into an institution only stymies any legitimate form of criticism, and its especially refreshing to have a contrarian opinion that isn’t engulfed by blocks of thinly-veiled snark to articulate their dissatisfaction.

    I appreciated this article, all and all.

  8. There’s a coffee shop near me with a giant picture of Dirty Harry and everyone there is a prick and their coffee sucks. Hope this helps.

  9. Haven’t read such anti-American Leftist crap in a long time.

    Clint Eastwood is one of the few people in hollywood who isn’t drowned down in the PC Liberal agenda.

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