Two misunderstood movies, two Rorschach tests (not too many spoilers here)

American Sniper is one of the best anti-war movies I have seen, ever.  But it shows the sniper-assassin, and his killing, to be sexy, and to be regarded as sexy by women, while the rest of war is dull and stupid.  (Even the two enemy snipers are quite attractive and fantastic figures, and there is a deliberate parallel between the family life of the Syrian sniper and the American protagonist.  The klutziness of the non-assassin soldiers limited how many African-Americans and Hispanics they were willing to cast in those roles, as it is easiest to make white guys look crass in this way without causing offense.)  By making the attractions of war palpable, this film disturbs and confuses people and also occasions some of the worst critical reviews I have read.  It also, by understanding and then dissecting the attractions of blood lust, becomes a quite convincing anti-war movie, if you doubt this spend a few months studying The Iliad.  (By the way, Clint Eastwood, the director and producer, describes the movie as anti-war.)  The murder scenes create an almost unbearable tension, the sandstorm is a metaphor for our collective fog, and they had the stones to opt for the emotional overkill of four rather than just three tours of duty.  Iraq is presented as a hopeless wasteland with nothing of value or relevance to the United States, and at the end of the story America proves its own worst enemy.  It is not clear who ever gets over having killed and fought in a war (can anything else be so gripping?…neither family life nor sex…), even when appearances suggest a kind of normality has returned.  The generational cycle is in any case replenished.  I say A or A+, both as a movie and as a Rorschach test.

Two Days, One Night has some of the worst economics I have seen in a movie, ever.  It would be brilliant as a kind of Randian (or for that matter Keynesian) meta-critique of the screwed up nature of Belgian labor markets and social norms, and most of all a critique of the inability of the Belgian intelligentsia to understand this, except it is not.  It is meant as a straight-up plea for sympathy for the victim and as such it fails miserably, even though as a movie it embodies reasonably good production values.  Everything in the workplace of this solar power company is zero-sum across the workers and we never see why.  The protagonist campaigns to get her job back, but never asks or even considers how she might improve her productivity or attitude, asking only on the basis of need.  (And she is turned down only on the basis of need.)  At one point her employer states the zero marginal product hypothesis quite precisely, something like “when you took time off, we saw that sixteen people could do the work of seventeen.”  She never asks if there might be some other way she could contribute — but she does need the money — nor does the notion of a better job match somewhere else rear its head.  The depictions of financial hardship confuse wealth and income, basic survival and discretionary spending.  The rave reviews this movie has received represent yet another Rorschach test and one which virtually every commentator seems to have failed.


does it matter that the director claims it to be an "anti-war" film when the majority of its target demographic will choose to consume it as jingoistic pornography?

Or its critics mistaking it for a pro-Iraq war film and missing the entire point.

Clint knows damn well that the masses will eat this up, and clearly they are. This movie isn't making 200 million dollars+ as an anti-war film. I'm not even going to get into the fact that chris was a very different person than the movie made him out to be(not a monster, but so far from good).

If you wanted the perfect pill to sneak in a crypto-anti-war film, wouldn't the perfect coating be a nominally pro-war film?

It didn't seem to work for Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

I believe Wall Street was made as an anti-wall street, if not anti-capitalist film. However, it was taken as an incredible recruiting tool for big banks by its audience.

"will choose to consume it as jingoistic pornography"

Yep, good stuff.

I consumed it as a good film adaption of a book, with crisp directing, concise and punchy writing, and an engrossing lead performance.

I am 99% certain that's what Eastwood, Cooper and Jason Hall aimed (!) for, they did not start with a political message.

"jingoistic pornography?" You say that like it was a bad thing.

Supporting the West is an obvious public good. Every time someone takes your argument here, it turns out they were apologizing for Pol Pot or the like. You should ask yourself why Leftist war movies do so poorly and why your friends end up killing so many.

you can't be serious. in the small chance you are,

a) one can certainly support the egalitarian, secular, pluralistic West without glorifying the wholesale massacre of brown people in a misbegotten war of choice.

b) conflating "the Left" with pol pot is just really stupid, stop it.

SMfS is a well-known troll here. Welcome.

-"a) one can certainly support the egalitarian, secular, pluralistic West without glorifying the wholesale massacre of brown people in a misbegotten war of choice."

Sure it's a free country. You can have state any opinion you want. But personally I find your racism a little bit distasteful.

Wholesale? You insult all Americans. They paid full retail price.

You cannot claim that the West is massacring brown people. Because it is not true. No Army has ever been more careful not to massacre people. Their enemies, you know, the people you claim you are not supporting, on the other hand frequently do. In fact most of the people the Left support massacre people wholesale. So it cannot be the massacring that they object to.

I did not conflate the Left with Pol Pot. I pointed out that people who hate the US and oppose them, usually end up supporting people like Pol Pot. Leftists did endorse the Khmer Rouge - all of them. They also endorsed pretty much every mass murdering group since. They were split on the Islamists.

Given that America is such a positive force for good in the world, it follows that if you instinctively and irrationally (see that brown people comment) oppose the Americans you inevitably end up endorsing a lot of people like Pol Pot.

As the Left has done. Look at Chomsky speaking at Hezbollah rallies.

Re: I pointed out that people who hate the US and oppose them, usually end up supporting people like Pol Pot.

This is ludicrous charge. People who support Pol Pot are rare as people who like bedbugs. This is the equivalent of the oft-heard notion upon the Left that religious conservatives are all Grand Inquisitors and Witch-burners in waiting.

It is not ludicrous. The entire Left came out to support the Khmer Rouge. An entire generation of university students took to the streets to demand the US stop fighting them. Chomsky lead a group of people who endorsed them and their policies at length - Chomsky being the most cited living author and not for his work on linguistics.

And the Left is still soft on the Khmer Rouge as people who did support them have gone on to have academic and professional careers without any problems whatsoever. Endorsing Apartheid would have ended your career. But Pol Pot? Not so much.

Truffaut was right!
"You want to have An Aesop about something that we should avoid at all costs. Trouble is, just by showing or describing it in lavish detail, you end up undermining your message by showing just how damn appealing it is and cause the audience to get the wrong idea. (...) The trope was formerly called 'Truffaut was right', named for French director François Truffaut who noted that you simply cannot make a truly anti-war movie." -

There's a smoking image on that link, which made me consider Trainspotting. The movie is cool, but I fail to see how it made heroin addiction look cool. Leaving a baby to die via junkie neglect and then being haunted by it is incredibly unappealing, despite being shown in "lavish detail."

To be honest, I haven't watched Trainspotting (interestingly, I remember reading an online commentary saying the movie was an apology of drugs, maybe it came from the kind of people who thinks vice must never be presented in any way). Still, I'd venture three hypothesis:
1) Even if a piece of art presents the possible (somewhat) long-term bad consequences of a behavior, by presenting the undeniable short-term pleasurable consequences of the behavior, it may stimulate the practice of said behavior. On the link, under Advertisement, look for Gofer Cakes.
2) The balance of cool imagery and bad consequences is hard. From the link: " if the work attempts to play down the attractive aspects and stick to the unappealing ones, the work itself may become unappealing as a result, which again undermines the goal of spreading its message." Maybe Transpointing got itthe balance, but it is seldom accomplished, I think. Also, as Axa pointed out: "In the real world drugs have two sides, pleasure and self-destruction. Movies that take the risk to show both sides are viewed as an apology for drugs"
3) War (Truffaut's original target) is an even harder problem. One can favor "limited wars" without risking being drafted. A "pro-war" movie doesn't even have to make people volunter, it is enough if it helps building political support. What would be the equivalent low stakes support sparked by a "pro-drugs" film? To convince people to legalize crack?

In fact, from the link: "Renton and his friends have quite a lot of fun and hijinks in the early parts of the film. The villain of the film is the only one who doesn't use drugs. However, the depressing squalor of the junkies' lives is definitely lingered upon, mostly in the middle to late parts of the story. Ultimately the hero's ability to turn his back on the lifestyle is fittingly triumphant."

Isn't it "Two Days, One Night"?

If The France incident didn't happen, it may have been anti-war. No one is really paying attention to Syria, but France may have penetrated the bubble. It may be more of a reminder.

Did you even watch the same movie? What family life of the Syrian sniper? All he does is kill a small boy using a power drill. I don't even think he has any lines.

Are you confusing him with the Iraqi man they have dinner with when they find a cache of guns in his house? Those are two different people. They aren't the same character.

"Syrian sniper" -- Mustafa. Admittedly, not nearly as much exposure to his family as Kyle's in the movie. I recall maybe one scene that included the mother/wife with baby in hand.

Good post Tyler.

the butcher kills the boy (actually doesn't he drill his leg), the sniper is a different character (though I wouldn't really call bringing your family to one of the deadliest parts of the world being a family man).

I thought the film had a good portrayal of some of the effects of PTSD, even though most critics didn't mention it. I don't think the film is anti-war and don't really know how many people could.

He drills the leg first, and then he drills his head. The camera angle obscures it (purposely), but it's pretty clear from context that is what he is doing. After all the boy is dead at the end of the scene.

The Syrian sniper character was largely invented by Steven Spielberg out of one vague line in the Chris Kyle book. Spielberg bought the rights to the book "American Sniper" and planned to make it his follow up to "Lincoln." Be he couldn't raise a big enough budget for the more lavish film he sought to make, so he let the cheaper Eastwood make the movie for under $60 million. Here's my review in Taki's Magazine last week:

By the way, Spielberg is a devoted gun collector, although he can't talk about it in public since it would get him in trouble with the gun control orthodoxy of his Democratic colleagues. To reward himself for each movie he completes, he buys himself a six-figure shotgun and has it engraved with scenes from the movie by an Italian master craftsman. Here's the only picture I could find on the Web of Spielberg shooting a gun:

@SS - re Syrian sniper invention, I agree, though by analogy the Mexican mafia does use the power drill on people's kneecaps. And they do use child hostages. But needless torturing for torturing sake is avoided, so I hear, though I am sure a fair number of psychopaths are attracted to the job of enforcer.

The reviews of American Sniper were not favorable; they said the non-sniper solders were portrayed as buffoons, who arguably did the real work (recall a sniper is simply trying to sow fear and confusion amongst these guys, but generally speaking, unless they pick off a general, snipers don't win wars), and there was no shades of grey (for example, the innocents shot by the sniper turned out to have hidden weapons, so they were not innocent, but how did the American sniper know that, unless he had x-ray vision?). No offense but TC sometimes likes caricature moves it seems to me, as he liked if memory serves the latest Transformer movie, which was awful. Gotta go...

Really, you ought to know better. You're commenting on a film you haven't seen.

Sure your post has good insights about snipers not winning wars on their own, but you are wrong about the details of the film. The innocents you mention are not innocent: in every case, they are either "soldiers" (jihadis) or civilians carrying bombs. In one harrowing scene, a young boy picks up an RPG after the jihadi holding it is shot. The sniper then has to decide if he should shoot the boy.

In an opening tableaux the sniper reveals that he knows he'll face charges if he shoots innocent civilians. He's constantly in touch with his superiors via a headset.

What is missing in the film are the spotters. The sniper has "minders" but surely they use spotters too.

"In an opening tableaux the sniper reveals that he knows he’ll face charges if he shoots innocent civilians." Seriously? Lol. How much self-serving jingoism can you stomach?

How many US soldiers have been prosecuted for shooting innocent civilians? I mean, I'm not disagreeing with the policy—this is war, after all—but this is the most ridiculous pro-war fantasy to make a claim like that. Basically you needed to go on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan to be prosecuted for this, hardly what a sniper should be planning to do. No wonder the rightwingers loves this movie so much—it restores their fantasy of Iraq was supposed to be (just America killing the bad guys) and not what it actually was (who the hell knows at this point).

I guess it is a Rorschach test—once you ignore three quarters of the movie, you can jam the portrayal of Kyle and his family's duress as an anti-war movie. Was this an inadvertent or purposeful troll from Tyler? What's the Straussian reading?

Thanks for confirming what I feared about Two Days, One Night. Most of the reviews have been positive but the trailer gave me the feeling that the economics of the movie would just make me angry.

If you ignore the economics and look at it as a series of encounters between people with different motivations it's still a pretty affecting movie. Focusing on the economics of this movie strikes me as like watching "Grave of the Fireflies" and tuning out because (SPOILERS, I GUESS) the protagonist doesn't just put up with his snippy aunt.

This is the one line description for "Two Days, One Night":

"A woman and her husband have to convince her colleagues to give up bonuses so she keeps her job."

But the author wrote the book.script as an apologia for the fact that he didn't do just that (among other things). Western audiences took the aunt to be a villain, but I don't think it was like that in Japan.

IMO Fury is a better anti war movie.

The critics got both movies wrong. Mood affiliation is very difficult to overcome.

Fury was pretty cliched but the tank battles were fucking great as action set pieces.

An American tank commander forcing a subordinate to shoot a helpless German soldier in the head as the German pleads for his life is cliched? Jeeze. What movies have you been watching?

This. Best tank action in a film I've seen.

As for the rest of it, it's fine at best. Particularly frustrating - because stupid - is the final scene where a disabled tank with five soldiers valiantly hold off 200-300 presumably battle hardened Waffen SS. (Who take hours to blow up a disabled tank. And hours to figure out that charging it stupidly just gets them killed.)

Awwww, it's just a little stretched:

Also, the other guys. From Wiki:

Wittmann is most famous for his ambush of elements of the British 7th Armoured Division, during the Battle of Villers-Bocage on 13 June 1944. While in command of a single Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger he destroyed up to 14 tanks and 15 personnel carriers along with 2 anti-tank guns within the space of 15 minutes.

I was surprised the film was made by the same guy who did the almost universally panned Schwarzenegger film Sabotage.

Great. Lessons in art appreciation from a man who believes one can fail a Rorschach test.

I am not going to defend the validity of the Rorschach, but it has been historically used to diagnose thought and personality disorders. Can't one at least call being diagnosed with such disorders a "failure", even if it might be meaningless?

This point deserves reflection. I liked Tyler's post but there is a distinct arrogance in "those who disagree just don't get it."

That woman is so stupid she doesn't understand labor economics! /s

In general I think Tyler Cowen has pretty bad art taste. His attraction to primitivist in paintings confuses me, to say the least. I also find both his music and movie taste somewhat disorganized. I think he suffers from a case of 'hey I am a pretty smart guy, and have the degrees to prove it, my taste on just about everything must be great!'. But hey, to each their own.

"I also find both his music and movie taste somewhat disorganized…"

At first I dismissed this and not really being possible, with art subjective and all, but then I thought about what'd I think of a guy whose total music and movie collection consisted of a Portishead, Ace of Bass and Merzbow CD on top of Kangaroo Jack, Dead Man Walking and Life is Beautiful DVDs. I guess I'd consider that person an untrue art appreciator (and someone living in 2004).

Bruce Springsteen meant Born in the USA as a war protest song, but a great many Americans, then and now, including people who really should know better, view (and use) it as a patriotic anthem. Whenever someone says anything along the lines of "the public got it wrong," I don't agree. People take what they want from their movies, books, and music. This is regardless of what the director intended or what economic reasoning tells us.

Completely agree RV. Criticising people for 'miss the point' in an art form is like criricising someone for using tennis balls on the legs of their walkers.

You get out of it that which makes the most sense for you.

Robert Frost's poem 'The Road Not Taken' is a similar example.
Everyone thinks it means something completely different from what it actually means.

That goes for pretty much every famous Frost poem. If I hear one more English teacher praise "Stopping by the Woods" as a lovely paean to the peace of a countryside, I'm going to do violence.

If it is not "a lovely paean to the peace of a countryside" then Frost was a really bad writer, since he was not able to communicate his ideas to the vast majority of readers.

If one finds themselves stating without doubt the single proper meaning of a poem, they don't really get poetry.

Or it was a really bad and/or simple poem.

Very few people I have ever met misunderstood what 'Born in the USA' was about. However, the people who complain about misunderstanding the song are numerous.

Are people regularly mentioning their correct interpretation to you, or are you quizzing them?

It is an example of why enunciation is important when singing.

American Sniper is one of the best anti-war movies I have seen, ever.
I prefer "almost too dumb to criticise"

But apparently not too dumb for the chairman and general director of the Mercatus Center to praise.

Well done.

Yessss, now I have a mental soundtrack to skipping over his posts!

i propose as the theme for all immigration posts, can be used for either side

I like a good Rickroll, it's been a while, but for that purpose you gotta go with:

p_a's new theme song.

Said the guy quoting Matt Taibbi for honest, thoughtful and unbiased analysis.

Look, if you can't find pure, impartial truth in Rolling Stone, where can you?

What is "unbiased analysis"?

I'm a little surprised Taibbi didn't come in for a slam for failing to mention how much better the Bundeswehr's snipers are.

"The really dangerous part of this film is that it turns into a referendum on the character of a single soldier. It's an unwinnable argument in either direction. We end up talking about Chris Kyle and his dilemmas, and not about the Rumsfelds and Cheneys and other officials up the chain who put Kyle and his high-powered rifle on rooftops in Iraq and asked him to shoot women and children."

Basically, Taibbi's complaint seems to boil down to how he doesn't like the movie because it's about Chris Kyle instead of Dick Cheney. In other words, it isn't sufficiently politicized for his taste. He would have a valid complaint if the screenplay were, say, based on a book Dick Cheney wrote, but that's not the case.

Another interpretation is that by accepting the situation Kyle is put in, you are tacitly accepting the decisions that led to that situation.

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

I will choose a path that's clear. I will choose free will.

Those decisions were made about 13 years ago, now. How would one go about not "accepting" them at this point? Organize an I-told-you-so march? That might actually be fun, considering I opposed the war with probably not much less fervor than Matt Taibbi did at the time, but failing to be the cinematic equivalent of this theoretical I-was-right-and-you-were-wrong grandstanding doesn't make American Sniper a dumb movie.

Taibbi already got to see all those other movies (Valley of Elah, Stop-Loss, Green Zone etc.) that were openly anti-war and anti-Cheney/Bush.

Nobody else saw them though. That is what really makes him mad.

Imagine a film whose hero was an jihadi volunteer fighting for ISIS. He relishes the slaughter and repeatedly expresses his desire to exterminate all the "kuffar" There is no political context except for an opening scene in which he watches a news report about Israel blowing up a Palestinian school.
Would anyone describe such a film as "non-political"?
(Such films do exist, but I would not recommend attempting to purchase one, as you may end up in prison.)

"There is no political context ... Would anyone describe such a film as “non-political”? "


You mean other than the NY Times, the critics, the journalists, the entire left, every professor in the nation, the entire Democratic Party and every minority group first on ISIS' hit list? Yeah, nobody but them would like such a film.

Wait until you find out that the director of American Sniper directed a film taking the point of view of Japanese fighting agains the US!

Ah, Matt Taibbi. Noted film scholar and thinker.

Unlike Mr. Taibbi, the film is subtle. One clue here is that it is pissing off both left and right. And intriguing others.

'and his killing'

Wait, they show the how he (and another) were killed while apparently practicing some style of gun therapy to help with post traumatic stress disorder?

But then, it seems as if Lyle (posthumously) also made some negative contributions to American freedom - 'In August 2013, Texas governor Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 162, also known as the "Chris Kyle Bill", to recognize military training in the issuance of occupational licenses.'

Anybody paid by the taxpayers should not be given preferential treatment in other occupations, right?

"to recognize military training in the issuance of occupational licenses....Anybody paid by the taxpayers should not be given preferential treatment in other occupations, right? "

No, the correct answer is we should eliminate or reduce the requirements for occupational licenses.

The thing that interests me about American Sniper is wondering how audiences and critics would have responded if the director had been someone else. I think both can't quite separate their feelings about the movie from their prior feelings about the director himself.

Wait, which tribe is Clint in these days? Just a few years ago he did his pro-Detroit Superbowl ad which showed him to be a dupe of the Blues. Is he a dupe of the Right now?

Gran Torino may have been a self-reflective take on political shift. Angry white geezer makes nice with immigrant kid.

Wasn't the message that assimilation requires America to use more carrot and less stick. Also that Asians potentially make better Americans than Africans.

I've never gotten the impression that Clint Eastwood was anti-immigrant, and it's pretty ignorant to assume that all or most Republicans are.

Gran Torino is really about reaching across cultural lines to discover shared values of honesty, hard work, and respect. It's a very conservative film in that way. The immigrant kid learns about American culture, and the old man learns that Hmong culture has a lot in common with his own values.

Who said anything about Republicans?

You forget Eastwood's speech at the Republican National Convention talking to an invisible Obama sitting in an empty chair.

Oh god. Yes, I had forgotten, and you made me remember. Bastard.

Yeah, he was spot-on with that one.

Sometimes even economists see in data that which confirms their beliefs.

The movie shows Chris Kyle to be a special kind of man, a hero. Much of Eastwood's recent work is really about what it means to be a man. It isn't snipering that is exciting, it's being Chris Kyle. When the Marines don't know how to go door to door, he leads them. Nothing tedious about it. Having dinner for him is a type for him to demonstrate how exceptional he is--he discovers his host is secretly an adversary.

Kyle's father delineates the different kinds of men. The Syrian sniper is Kyle's counterpart in many ways--he's a great shot, he's from abroad so the fight he's engaged in is one he's chosen. But we aren't to view him as just like Kyle, because he's not fighting for the right side.

The film makes clear the damage that war can do to those who wage it. Recall Kyle's brief conversation on the tarmac with his brother. And the film spends considerable time on Kyle's difficulties transitioning from war to family. And yet it makes it clear that he fully managed the transition. When Kyle playfully points a toy gun at his wife, we're not worried. We know when he growls at his kid that he would never hurt her. He's fully present and fully intact.

On the movie's understanding of itself, the only murder that Chris Kyle was present for was his own.

There is a difference between a war-is-hell movie and an anti-war movie. This is clearly the former.

Excellent distinction between war-is-hell and anti-war.

Seems like a lot of critics and commentors here are confusing two different concepts: anti-war is not the same as anti-american. The movie, I gather, takes the perspective of highly patriotic Americans as they suffer through a horrible war.

Exactly. The left wants anti American, they pretend they want what they got, anti war.

What is an "anti war" movie? Of course all reasonable people agree war is bad. Does anti war mean pacifist? Or something else?

Are there anti-crime movies? Anti-disease movies?

You wouldn't deny the existence of films that glorify war--if not generally, then at least the particular effort depicted.

If art glorifies a particular war effort, do you not think it might sway how the next conflict is dealt with? In my opinion, the "good war" we fought in Europe paved the way for the genocide in SE Asia one generation removed.

Read "Kill Anything That Moves" if the hyperbole offends you.

"genocide in SE Asia"

You are no doubt referring to the the mass murders by the Vietnamese and Cambodian regimes after their victories?

Maybe he is talking about the Capitalist genocide in Southeast Asia?

Anti- the particular war it depicts? There were a lot of people who were pro invading Iraq, and there are still some who would like a sizeable American military presence in the country indefinitely.

That's a tough call, Srw. I remember watching Platoon as a teen and getting a visceral thrill from many scenes. Sgt. Elias could efficiently wipe out snipers, while still sparing the life of an old man and is granddaughter.

Meanwhile, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is, to me, an anti-war movie. John Wayne finds a way to prevent a conflict between his young soldiers and the Apache by driving away their horses.

Perhaps the best anti-war movie is Gone With the Wind, because it's about non-combatants.

In this case, there were insufficient long diatribes about what a hitler Bush was. Think "Killing them softly". A very strong film ruined in the last five minutes by five straight minutes of anti-republican political diatribe shoehorned in for no conceivable reason into the end of a crime flick.

Pro-war movies have a whiff of "dulce et decorum est". Death has a purpose. Leaders are brave and wise. The protagonist never loses his or her moral compass. In anti-war moves death is meaningless; leaders are fools and cowards; and the protagonist may or may not lose his or her moral compass. Most of the time whether a movie is pro or anti war has nothing to do with how harrowing the combat scenes are.

The Green Berets and Saving Private Ryan are obvious pro-war movies. I would claim that Platoon is a a pro-war movie since at the end Charlie Sheen has gone through his rite of passage and gets to leave with a red badge of courage and embodies sublime combination of Sgt Tough Guy and Sgt Hippie.

Gallipoli, Paths of Glory, and The Thin Red Line are an anti-war movies.

The left's reaction to a movie whose central message -- if there even is one -- is basically "war is hell" is fascinating. The criticisms are so bizarre that they almost had me wondering if we watched the same movie. For example, one common criticism made by both Matt Taibbi and Vox's Amanda Taub is that the movie alleges a 9/11-Iraq War connection. It does no such thing. Rather, it shows Chris Kyle and his fiancée watching the twin towers attack and in the next scene they are at their wedding where Kyle receives his deployment orders. Well, guess what folks, that's actually what happened: 9/11 occurred and then 1.5 years later the US invaded Iraq. The 9/11 scene simply functions as a timestamp letting the audience know that Kyle will likely soon be heading off to war.

Taibbi also calls the movie a "saccharine, almost PG-rated two-hour cinematic diversion" for a film that shows death and destruction, disfigured Iraq war veterans, a kid tortured with an electric drill, a room full of random body parts and a dead body with obvious signs of torture.

There are plenty of other idiocies. Taub for example says "it is hardly surprising many viewers appear to have absorbed American Sniper's message as "Muslims are evil and should be killed." Her evidence? Four tweets from random people making anti-Muslim statements after seeing the movie. Nevermind that millions of people use Twitter or that the movie says absolutely nothing about religion (the only religious reference I can recall is the call to prayer echoing as US soldiers advance through an Iraqi town).

Taub also laments the fact that the movie fails to show US troops killing innocent civilians even though Chris Kyle doesn't mention any such incident in his book -- apparently such an incident should have been invented by Eastwood? Taibbi, meanwhile, seems to be upset that more of a backstory about the Iraq War wasn't provided -- in other words, he resents the lack of politics being injected. Why this is necessary for a movie about one soldier's story is unclear.

I'll also note that one scene shows Chris Kyle encountering his brother on an airport tarmac in Iraq with his brother looking shook-up and muttering "f*** this place" -- not exactly rah-rah gung-ho stuff. Another soldier is shown expressing misgivings about the war and what the US was doing there (to which Kyle replies something to the effect about preferring to fight them in Iraq than San Diego or NYC. You can interpret that as pro-war propaganda, but based on what we know of Kyle that also seems like the kind of thing he would have said).

None of this is to mean the movie is error-free or above criticism. Lots of stuff shown in the movie is invented and war clichés do appear. But the left's collective freak-out over the film is completely unjustified. I'll conclude by noting that the movie ends with a battle in which the US soldiers barely escape with their lives, Kyle's return home and then footage of Kyle's memorial service as the credits roll. It's incredibly somber. My reaction when exiting the theater was "what a waste" while my wife's first comment was to note how the soldiers did the suffering while the politicians who ordered them into battle had to sacrifice almost nothing. If that's what counts for pro-war propaganda these days...

I got a lot of the same from Taub's criticisms. Her complaining that the movie alleges a 9/11-Iraq War connection struck me as totally off the mark. The movie is about a guy and how he viewed the war. If he saw a connection between 9/11 and the Iraq War then what difference does it make if that connection is false?

I think Taub really didnt like this movie because it insufficiently reflected her politics, which is why people who obsess over politics are so fucking boring.

This is one of the best distillations of why the criticisms of American Sniper are so wrong.

Indeed. Most don't care about the film at all. They just use it as a soapbox.

What is "left" however? Most right wingers support international capitalism and want to destroy the national government so this internationalism can thrive. The dictatorship of capital and its sephardic born usury is at the crux of the issue.

High five, get a column somewhere.

Tyler's review of American Sniper is one of the few good reviews of the movie that I've seen. He captures the brief paralleling of Kyle and Mustafa, which most critics apparently did not notice. In general, left-leaning critics have fundamentally misunderstood the movie, and I genuinely wonder if most of them simply didn't tune out during it. The first shootings capture the moral ambiguity and tension, not a celebratory, video-game moment. It's a serious movie, albeit one that is also entertaining. Critics on the left want war movies to preach their gospel. Eastwood sought to make a good movie, not a sermon.

uh, the movie is Oliver Stone level of "change". Kylie lied a lot(cue Jesse Ventura). the part was to make money, especially for the widow.

Yes, Kyle seemed fond of telling made up stories, but that's really not the point of the movie, anymore than Selma is about MLK's preference for socialism.

Critics on the Left may need war films to spell out their politics more clearly, because combined with the conservative disposition of the country, anything ambiguous can be seen as "pro-war."

"The first shootings capture the moral ambiguity and tension…"

This movie had nothing on Hurt Locker e.g. for ambiguity and tension. Jeesh. I can see how American Sniper, especially being Eastwood-directed, is being seen as pro-war. As a commenter above noted, war-is-hell and pro-war films aren't mutually exclusive, so yes pro-war despite all the grit and grime onscreen.

Incidentally, the recently published Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson is a tour de force of scholarship masquerading as a pop non-fiction book for the laymen. I read it alongside American Sniper and both worked off each other to edifying effect.

Is it worth reading even if your last encounter with Homer was a decade ago? (i.e. you're not very well-versed on the epics, especially The Iliad?)

It is interesting to see reviews and discussions of American Sniper from all these various 'communities' - bubbles, if you will - tied into so many other discussions about military leadership, civilian leadership, heroism and public recognition of soldiers, and second amendment rights.

And on that alone you gotta give credit to Eastwood, if you can make a movie that gets people talking like this one you have achieved something.

Anyone know where I can see the movie for free online?

Possibly the most pro American comment in this thread.


The first film celebrates as a hero a real-life mass murderer and enthusiast for racial genocide (he wishes he could shoot anyone holding a Koran, his only regret is that he didn't get to kill more Iraqi "savages", etc.) and Tyler thinks liberals are too dumb to understand that it's really a great anti-war film in disguise. Because, you know, Eastwood is such a subtle and nuanced filmmaker. Like at the end of Grand Torino when his cranky-racist-old-man character gets martyred in a Jesus-on-the-cross pose. Not many people caught that, because it was so subtle. Oh, and then the director-star sings the theme song over the end credits. The title of the song: "Gran Torino". Just like the title of the movie, see? All subtle-like.

The second film deliberately critiques the con pulled by economic elites in creating the illusion that the plebs have to compete in a zero-sum game (while the 1% continue to increase their share of capital and income each year), and Tyler says liberals are too dumb to understand that economics isn't really a zero-sum game.

Tyler, you write some interesting stuff about economics. But perhaps you need to stop writing about film. Because you sound really dumb when you do.

Well, I think you're wrong about Eastwood and Cowen is wrong about American Sniper.

It's not an anti-war movie, or a pro-war movie, it's just a war movie.
It's a movie that says "here's some war, make up your own fucking mind!"

Dude, spoiler alert! Not everyone has seen Gran Torino. Whatever your opinion of the ending, it was one of those rare times where I truly did not see it coming. A great film by a great filmmaker, in my opinion.

Two Days, One Night has some of the worst economics I have seen in a movie, ever.

What non-documentary movie has the most accurate economics? I'm trying to think of some, but can't. Most movies' economics is completely fubar.

A Most Violent Year has some very good economics, and a very misleading name.

Other People's Money has the best defense of creative destruction ever put on film.

"The klutziness of the non-assassin soldiers,"

As a former Non-Elite Klutz, I saw this as a pretty genuine depiction. Tactical maneuvering takes a ridiculous amount of practice, and it often looks like a "Cluster -." Also, clearing buildings is spectacularly difficult, even when no one is shooting back (which was thankfully the case in the 1980's). So I imagine that doing all of this while under threat, and in mind-warping heat with the tons gear that these guys carry, a new unit of infantry could appear somewhat graceless at times.

Also, I remember being very impressed by how the Army Rangers moved. It was just different.

I would like somebody make a movie and show how "communism" as practiced was invented by the capitalists and spread globally by capital to make profit. Then we could show how capital created "anti-communism" for hegelian collision=more profit.

Of course the left will not like this movie. The hero is a tough, patriotic, White cowboy who speaks with a thick accent, who is unintellectual, and who is able and willing to fight for his nation. The kind of guy the hostile elite left fears will some day wake up and start fighting for his own people instead of a government that hates him.

But I wouldn't call this an anti-war movie. It portrays the war as being hard and brutal, it portrays killing and death, and it portrays the psychological consequences of war on the soldiers. But imagine a similar movie about the civil war. Would anyone call it an anti civil war movie? To ask is to answer.

The first glimpse of war shows the bombing of the embassy in Nairobi. For no reason. Then the 9/11 attacks. No reason. Then it jumps two years into the future with the invasion of Iraq, as if there were some connection there. Then the "hajis" firing on American soldiers, hating us so much as to send their women and children to suicide bomb American soldiers. For no reason other than "evil." And Chris Kyle says to a slightly cynical fellow soldier that the evil must be fought, 'cause we don't want these people in New York or San Diego.

I know why they hate us, I know that Saddam Husein had nothing to do with 9/11 and that the Iraq invasion followed it by two years(young people might not know that). I know who the "Sunnis" and "Shia" are. I know we fought that war not to defend Americans but because of neocon ideologues, war profiteers and "Americans" who chief loyalty is to foreign power. I know that if those people ever got to New York or San Diego it would be thanks to the immigration policies of people Jorge Bush. So I, like some of you, might want to sympathize with the cowboy who got duped into serving an unjust cause, and then who along with his family becomes a type of victim of the war. But, importantly, lots of people don't know those things and won't see it that way.

When the Iraq invasion began I told everyone who would listen about my opinion on the matter and was shocked by the ignorance of many of the Chris Kyle's of the world. I remember many of them, talking in that same hillbilly accent, who said the war was going to be fought because of 9/11. It was fought because they hate our freedom. And the only people who would oppose it hate America, they're with the terrorists. They were shocked that I, someone they knew to be pro-White, was siding with the "liberals." They didn't know much about history and politics and believed everything they were told on their idiot box. How will they see this movie? They will see it at face value, evil middle eastern people hate us for no reason, this heroic guy killed many of them only to be victimized by the hell of war. This will make them even madder at the TERRISTS who hate our freedom, more willing the next time a war is "necessary" to send over their own people to Fight For Freedom.

Nice post. Thank you.

No, it's dumb. The "no reason" leitmotif is dumb. The movie is about Chris Kyle and adapted from his book. Those events drove him to the Navy.

Your political fever is not a good guide to understanding the movie, just to your political fever.

Yes, you are right, there is a reason, in that those events drove Chris Kyle to the Navy, but will his ilk when viewing the movie interpret that as the only meaning of portraying those events, or will they see a more meaningful connection between portraying those events and then the Iraq war, beyond Chris Kyle’s motivation for joining the Navy?

This is something I wonder about as well. How do effete, urban elites think men like Chris Kyle are going to remain motivated for these Wilsonian crusades if they despise them and mock their values?

What happens when men like Chris Kyle decide no more wars for public schools in Iraq and to fight the enemies of the Saudi and Kuwaiti royal families--the Rolling Stone writers are going to take up the slack?

Or no more senseless wars..?

"..–the Rolling Stone writers are going to take up the slack?"

Why we'll all live in peace and harmony of course. Despite, all the historical evidence to the contrary the Left wing always feel that this time the correct Top Men (and Women of course) will avoid all the pitfalls that the redneck leaders of the past led us into.

In short, you know a lot of shit that just ain't so.

LOL. Nothing winds lefties up like conservatives who oppose war for the right reasons.

+ 10 Good post...

"The protagonist campaigns to get her job back, but never asks or even considers how she might improve her productivity or attitude, asking only on the basis of need."

Is it fair to use this as a basis for criticism of classes of real people in the real economy?

If some arbitrary group of people made such a need-based case for their own inclusion in a larger group that had rejected them, would you describe that as "the worst economics I have seen"?

Every single one of Clint Eastwood's movies appear to have a basic theme.
"Life is nice for young and healthy people. Their problems are interesting. Everyone else is unlucky."
It is not Shakespeare, people.
While making this movie, Clint's health was bad and his wife was getting ready to leave him.
Chris Kyle had neither of those specific problems. Movies are an escape from reality or else they don't sell tickets. Clint and his pals get that.
By the way, Tyler, you seem to have won your bet that you could get 100 plus comments any time you want.

How many Eastwood films have you seen, exactly? None of the ones I have seen qualify as a youth-glorifying escape from reality. I haven't seen American Sniper, though.

"It's not Shakespeare" is not really an insult. Eastwood has starred in about 300 TV episodes and 40 movies. I may easily have missed the best or atypical ones. Still, I saw about five of his Westerns and his best Western was worse than John Wayne's worst Western, and John Wayne's worst western was pretty bad.

'The Good The Bad and the Ugly' is worse than John Wayne's worst? Seriously?
'Unforgiven', too?

If you had actually watched more than two Eastwood films, you would know that Eastwood's major topic has always been men with violence and guilt in their past.
Unforgiven - remorseful former gunslinger.
Million Dollar Baby - man estranged from his daughter
Mystic River - ex-con kills his childhood friend
The Outlaw Josey Wales - Confederate civil war veteran whose family was killed by Union vigilantes

I could go on ...

Hazel - I have watched many Eastwood movies over the last 40 years. I am a huge fan of Sergio Leone, although his love for Celine and Camus is stale and outdated and, to tell the truth, offensive. The two worst Wayne Westerns are Red River, with its Swarthmore-level existential stench, and Rooster Cogburn, for obvious reasons. The best Eastwood Westerns - probably the Leone ones, which are embarrassingly bad compared to masterpieces like Once Upon A Time In America - are, unfortunately, shot through with a philosophical wimpiness that Wayne would have laughed at and felt instinctively sorry for. Wayne would never have inflicted upon a paying public the ridiculous and unrealistic self-regard of "the man with no name," and so Wayne's worst movies, embarrassing or not, are better than Eastwood's best little philosophy puzzles. As for Eastwood himself, although he is 84, the poor little rich boy has the philosophical chops of an adolescent. Yes he can project masculinity, in a Baron Charlus sort of way, but millions of us men could do as much , and almost as many millions of us could do better if we had the cash, and there is nothing Eastwood has ever said or done - that I know of - that leads me to believe that he is capable of rising above his Hollywood slickness, his rich boy Nietzcheanism, or his fashionable airs of an older man who believes himself worthy, like Woody Allen, to follow his heart with ever younger confused women . You probably know this, Hazel - in the real world, men with violence in their past go to God for forgiveness, and try to bring love into the world. That is all they can do. Clint Eastwood needs our prayers, not our praise of him as some sort of better and tougher version of Ron Howard or Arthur Fonzarelli. That being said, I approve of movies with chimps and truckdrivers and I plan to watch Heartbreak Ridge soon. And I am happy you feel you did not waste your money on the movies you saw. Maybe I missed Eastwood's best movies. Probably not, though.

The cartoon at LA Times nailed it.

I remember a similar situation with Requiem for A Dream. Lots of people were happy because it was an "anti-drugs" movie, there was no other way to understand it . Recreational drug users at the time just laughed at the movie. Now they are married, with a job, a kid and a mortgage. That's the other extreme, you smoke in college and take a couple pills for weekend party and you don't die. In the real world drugs have two sides, pleasure and self-destruction. Movies that take the risk to show both sides are viewed as an apology for drugs. Army/War is the same. You kill other people, you may die or get seriously traumatized. Other side, war is glamorous and army is sexy. When a war movie is as straightforward as Requiem for a Dream, lots of people is happy. When someone dares to look at the glamorous side of the story, it is called war propaganda.

From Variety:
"Maybe because the reason “Sniper” is striking such a chord in the U.S. right now is that it sells us on a fantasy we want to hear instead of the more troubling truth we’d rather ignore. After many costly years of military intervention in Iraq that has left us little to show for our sacrifice given that the region is more unstable than ever, what better way to soothe a war-weary public than with a tale of a fighter who never seems to grow weary. Chris Kyle collectively relieves our anxiety about the damage done to so many of our young men and women over there by offering the example of a man who emerged miraculously unscathed."

War is terrible. There are very few movies which present war as a romantic adventure or a testing of the soul that elevates man. In fact, I can't think of one even though there was a movie about Patton who did believe things like that. Darryl F. Zannuck intended The Longest Day to be an anti-war movie (much like how DC Comics war comics in the 1970s and 1980s often stated "Make War No More" after showing Sgt Rock mow down Nazis) by showing how terrible it was. However, showing the horror of war just makes the men who survive it seem even more heroic which often inverts any intent of the picture to be anti-war.

"Anti-war" is a misnomer. Very few people - some very dedicated pacifists - are always anti-war. People are just anti-war about THIS or THAT war. There is always some war they will support.

Dalton Trumbo wrote Johnny Got His Gun, one of the most effective anti-war books ever written. It was published after the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the start of WWII, because Trumbo thought the worse thing possible might be that America enter the war to fight Stalin's pal Hitler. It stayed in print right until June 22, 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Then all of a sudden, Trumbo didn't think an anti-war book was good at all and he got the publisher to pull it. When isolationists wrote to him requesting copies of the book, he turned those letters over to the FBI. The book remained out of print until the Cold War began, and all of a sudden Trumbo thought it time to make an anti-war stance.

I'm glad you mentioned "Two Days, One Night"! I was thinking this very point about the "economics" of the movie the other day.

However, disliking this movie because its economics is so-so is like disdaining "It's A Wonderful Life" because you don't accept that angels exist.

The "plot" is just a set-up for a series of vignettes on the theme of "why workers don't empathize with each other and act to support each other". Whether you agree with the content of those vignettes is another question, but the movie is not a plea for companies to take in any worker who asks for a job. The movie is a plea to think about whether hard-core capitalist economics is always good for communities. You could argue that zoning is an intrusion on personal liberty, but try to open your waste processing plant in your row house in Georgetown and you're going to find yourself facing a lot of people who suddenly aren't very fond of laissez faire. Bad economics, but there are other values in life.

Came here to say something similar. All storytelling requires a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience.


I do feel, however, that the Dardennes made something that opens itself up to this kind of scrutiny, which compromises the film. We are expected to accept the central conflict as-is but there are so many questions! Cowen is right to ask whether or not she would be better suited somewhere else. And even if she had been allowed to keep her job, how long would she have lasted? Would she have wanted to stay in the face of open (and violent) resentment from her coworkers? A film that has so much trouble maintaining the suspension of disbelief is, unfortunately, fatally flawed.

I agree with Tyler when he says that the movie 'occasions some of the worst critical reviews I have read.' Liberals outraged that a movie shot from the perspective of a redneck, Texan SEAL doesn't share their viewpoint is just silly. Not having to shoehorn in another perspective puts you deeper into Kyle's shoes.

Yet to say it's one of the great anti-war movies.... really? I think the movie trades mainly in cliche, from the climatic sniper duel (telegraphed as soon as the Syrian 'olympic' sniper is introduced) to well-worn scenes from the SEAL bootcamp. I thought the dust-storm at the end wouldn't have looked out of place in the Mummy.

Like a lot of Eastwood's oeuvre I think it will be largely forgotten in 2-3 years. I also think Tyler will realise this if he watches it with a less outraged mine.

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