“American Sniper” is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing R-rated movie since “The Passion of the Christ,” and the controversy around the film isn’t letting up. Aside from the backlash against the film from many people on the left, there’s a backlash against the backlash on the right, with any criticisms leveled against the film being seen as a sign that the writer isn’t supporting the troops. Seth Rogen got in trouble for comparing “American Sniper” to the propaganda film in “Inglourious Basterds” (he later claimed that this wasn’t a criticism of the film per se), and Michael Moore caught a lot of heat for this tweet:
My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) January 18, 2015
But Moore’s view of “American Sniper” is more complicated than 140 characters could allow, and in an interview with Vice’s Eddy Moretti, Moore spoke about the film, the plague of PTSD, and the Iraq War. Firstly, Moore notes that his initial tweet didn’t actually mention “American Sniper,” but the issue of snipers:
I purposely didn’t say anything about American Sniper in my original tweets. I certainly wrote what I wrote because that weekend there was a lot of talk about snipers because of the movie, but also because it was Martin Luther King weekend and I just found it uncomfortable that something called “American Sniper, “a film about a sniper, would be released on the weekend where we’re honoring a great American who was killed by a sniper. And if anybody doesn’t see anything wrong with that, how would you feel then if it were announced tomorrow that “American Sniper 2″ would be released on November 22?
Moore goes on to address the fact that many of the film’s most passionate, furious defenders are the same ultra-conservative crowd that turned up in droves for “The Passion of the Christ” and who otherwise don’t see many movies in a year, the concept of Chris Kyle saving lives in a war that many believe needlessly endangered the lives of both Americans and Iraqis, and that the film’s portrayal of PTSD highlights how America needs to have a bigger conversation about the subject. He also says that he’s showing the film in his theater because “it’s part of the American discussion and people should see it. You can’t talk about it if you haven’t seen it.” Notably, Moore argues that the film isn’t the gung-ho war film that many have made it out to be:
Anyway, I was so happy sitting with this audience because they were very affected by it. There were tears. People were having a reaction to it. The closing credits have no music—very somber. Every main character in the film either ends up messed up by the war, turns against the war and becomes anti-war, or dies. There’s not some American victory to cheer at the end, and there’s no instance of go look what we did , or like at the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” where you see Tom Hanks die but in the back of your head you’re going, “Well, he didn’t die for no reason.” There is none of that in this film. There is no catharsis.
As someone who runs hot and cold on Moore’s films and on him as a personality, it’s easy to get frustrated when he’s in self-aggrandizing mode or when he’s holding himself up as the average American instead of a millionaire filmmaker. There’s some of that in the interview, but Moore highlights how one-dimensional much of the coverage and discussion of “American Sniper” has been. Clint Eastwood might have made a film that appeals to some of the more fanatical pro-war Americans out there, but their reactions shouldn’t be used as a cudgel against the film or against Eastwood. Too many op-eds have forgotten that Eastwood is pro-gun control, or that he opposed not only the Iraq War, but the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Afghanistan War. Too many have ignored that his previous Oscar-winning films include a western about the corrupting factor of violence (“Unforgiven”), a crime drama about the futility of revenge (“Mystic River”), a boxing drama that ends with an act of compassionate euthanasia (“Million Dollar Baby”) and a World War II film that views the Japanese as human, conflicted people rather than warmongers (“Letters from Iwo Jima”).
This shouldn’t exempt Eastwood or “American Sniper” from close scrutiny or criticism, and The Dissolve’s Keith Phipps wrote last week that plenty of critics have managed to keep cool heads while being critical of the film. But Moore, Phipps, and others show that it’s possible to have qualms with aspects of “American Sniper” and how the film has been embraced by some without writing it off as a propaganda piece. Matt Zoller Seitz noted on Twitter that the response to “American Sniper” isn’t unlike that to Michael Cimino’s controversial, Oscar-winning Vietnam War movie “The Deer Hunter,” which similarly seems more concerned with the effects of the war on Americans than on the people whose country was invaded. There’s plenty of room to have issues with this, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the film should be written off entirely. Above all else, it’s important to see “American Sniper” before deciding what the film’s stance on the war is, let alone taking a stance on the film itself.