THE BLOG
01/30/2015 01:59 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

American Sniper

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What's a hero? Odysseus is one of the most famous heroes in literature and the complexity of his return might be said to be a metaphor for the perils of the calling. As you may recall when Odysseus returns, he's only recognized by his dog Argos. Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the story of navy seal Chris Kyle's (Bradley Cooper), American Sniper: the Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U. S.Military History is curiously reminiscent of the Homeric myth to the extent that it's on his return home that the shit literally hits the fan. Kyle did four tours in Iraq, starting in Fallujah and ending in Sadr City. He served for l000 days and picked off 160 enemy soldiers. Heroes might be said to be ideologically neutral to the extent that there are always soldiers who manifest heroic character traits, no matter which side they're on or how good or evil the cause. There were heroes on both sides of the Peloponnesian War just as there were heroes amongst both the Axis and Allied powers during the second World War II. The weakest points of American Sniper in fact result from the attempt to give Kyle a kind of moral superiority and the strongest come in the recognition of his humanity. There are two scenes when he has to take aim at a child. In one he shoots and in the other, he breathes a sigh of relief when his quarry puts down a weapon. And our latter day Odysseus is guilty of hubris too. In a scene where he finally shoots an evasive enemy sniper, who is his counterpart, he gives away his platoon's position. American Sniper isn't very forthcoming about matters of psychology. "We're protecting more than just this dirt," Kyle says at one point, but such high flown language doesn't really distinguish him from cowboys like John Wayne. Significantly in real life Kyle was a cowboy before he became a soldier. He starts off as a bronco buster and good old boy and then war takes its toll on his personality (which may or may not have been evidenced by an incident recounted in the book and not in the movie for which former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura sued Kyle's estate and won $1.8 million in damages). And that's about as far as the film goes in exploring the subject of character or character building. There's also a tedium to American Sniper as it methodically makes it way through Kyle's story. However that can be blamed on the nature of war itself, which is depicted to be as relentlessly repetitive as it is frightening to endure.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}