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credit: hollywoodreporter.com

credit: hollywoodreporter.com

Media Progressives are nothing if not predictable. A case in point is one Matt Taibbi, writing what purports to be a movie review of American Sniper in a January 21, 2015 edition of Rolling Stone, which rag hasn’t had a good run of journalistic integrity of late. One can expect the self-appointed cultural elite to be insultingly dismissive of and terminally snarky about anything the denizens of flyover country–you know, Americans?–like, but his article “American Sniper’ Is Almost Too Dumb To Criticize. Almost,” is a study in predictability and lazy disdain.

Regular readers know that I’ve been covering Chris Kyle for some time. My latest article was an actual movie review of “American Sniper.”  My other articles, to date, are:

The Universe Has A Good Laugh

Chris Kyle: Ave Atque Vale 

Chris Kyle: America Dodges A Bullet 

Chris Kyle: A Warning 

Chris Kyle: The Universe Has a Second Laugh

Chris Kyle: He’ll Have The Last Laugh

Taibbi’s article is lazy because while masquerading as a critique of the movie, it contains virtually no actual cinema criticism. What it does contain, in heaping doses, is venomous, dripping sarcasm and self-righteous political invective from a man that obviously sees patriotism, our military, and Americans that appreciate both, as sub-human imbeciles, fit only for the calumny people like Tiabbi are only too willing to heap upon them. There is nothing in Tiabbi’s piece that is original, only endlessly recycled leftist talking points and hate. In fact, it’s almost not worth criticizing. Almost.

I saw American Sniper last night, and hated it slightly less than I expected to. Like most Clint Eastwood movies – and I like Clint Eastwood movies for the most part – it’s a simple, well-lit little fairy tale with the nutritional value of a fortune cookie that serves up a neatly-arranged helping of cheers and tears for target audiences, and panics at the thought of embracing more than one or two ideas at any time.

It’s usually silly to get upset about the self-righteous way Hollywood moviemakers routinely turn serious subjects into baby food. Film-industry people angrily reject the notion that their movies have to be about anything (except things like “character” and “narrative” and “arc,” subjects they can talk about endlessly).

Taibbi immediately establishes his credentials as a discriminating observer of lesser beings. All good art functions on many levels, literal and subliminal, and American Sniper is good art. It is far more than mere entertainment. Taibbi’s ideological blinders prevent him from producing honest critical analysis. The implication that American Sniper isn’t about anything is indicative of leftist, critical blindness, as I explained in detail in my recent critique of the movie. What’s next for the intellectually and morally superior being? Attacking one of the most successful, touching and charming movies ever made.

This is the same Hollywood culture that turned the horror and divisiveness of the Vietnam War era into a movie about a platitude-spewing doofus with leg braces who in the face of terrible moral choices eats chocolates and plays Ping-Pong. The message of Forrest Gump was that if you think about the hard stuff too much, you’ll either get AIDS or lose your legs. Meanwhile, the hero is the idiot who just shrugs and says ‘Whatever!’ whenever his country asks him to do something crazy.

Forrest Gump pulled in over half a billion and won Best Picture. So what exactly should we have expected from American Sniper?

Not much. But even by the low low standards of this business, it still manages to sink to a new depth or two.

I’m sure the honest reader–most Americans, particularly the flyover country type–will by now be wondering if Taibbi actually saw Forrest Gump. They came away from that movie both uplifted and touched by the honest emotion it portrayed. Forrest Gump an idiot who mindlessly does whatever crazy thing his country asks? Forrest was brilliantly acted by Tom Hanks who portrayed him as a simple, but decent man who reflexively sacrificed himself for the good of others. Rather than mindlessly obeying a corrupt system, he, because of his great loyalty and love, did what was necessary to help others and to save lives, even at the risk of his own. In the grand scheme of life, his unconscious actions brought him prosperity, if not exactly happiness, at least not as happiness is usually defined. Virtue was rewarded–in America, that possibility always exists–and this no progressive can acknowledge or appreciate. Forrest Gump is a complex movie, a movie that is easily apprehended on the literal level, but that contains the archetypal narrative elements of good art that have spoken to men since before The Odyssey.

If there was any doubt that this was not going to be an honest critique of a movie, Taibbi inadvertently leaves no doubt:

The thing is, the mere act of trying to make a typically Hollywoodian one-note fairy tale set in the middle of the insane moral morass that is/was the Iraq occupation is both dumber and more arrogant than anything George Bush or even Dick Cheney ever tried.

No one expected 20 minutes of backstory about the failed WMD search, Abu Ghraib, or the myriad other American atrocities and quick-trigger bombings that helped fuel the rise of ISIL and other groups.

But to turn the Iraq war into a saccharine, almost PG-rated two-hour cinematic diversion about a killing machine with a heart of gold (is there any film theme more perfectly 2015-America than that?) who slowly, very slowly, starts to feel bad after shooting enough women and children – Gump notwithstanding, that was a hard one to see coming.

Ah–of course!  It’s all about politics. It’s all about destroying one’s political–Republican/conservative–enemies. Because Taibbi hates George Bush, Dick Cheney, etc., he, like a Pavlovian dog salivating at the ringing of a bell, must attack any war movie that does not attack America and the mortal enemies of Tiabbi and all good progressives. I do not speak of Islamist savages that would gladly saw off Tiabbi’s head with a dull knife, but Americans that don’t share his views.  Those guys and girls are really dangerous.

And wouldn’t a scene or two about jihadists being forced to wear women’s panties on their heads (the horror), about finding multiple caches of WMDs in Iraq (though not in quite the quantities the intelligence agencies of virtually every nation believed to be present) be wonderful? Wouldn’t that sell tickets? Actually no. Multiple anti-war, anti-America movies have been made and unlike the efforts of our military, bombed miserably. Poorly made movies, leftist movies that insult and denigrate the very audience their makers counted on, are generally not a smart or profitable idea. Flyover country Americans are more than smart enough to know when they’re being insulted by smug socialists, and surprisingly enough, they aren’t prone to pay for the privilege.

Taibbi is so obviously enveloped in hate for his fellow Americans he can’t understand the subtlety of the opening scene where Kyle must decide whether to shoot a young boy and his mother. Kyle, on his scope, watches as the woman gives the boy a grenade with which to attack a platoon of approaching American soldiers.  Kyle doesn’t want to pull the trigger, but he does, not because he is a killer, but because his job is to save American lives. Eastwood, in mere seconds, brilliantly demonstrates the reality of the war Kyle fought as, through Kyle’s scope, we see the boy’s mother run to her fallen child. It’s heart-rending not only for Kyle, but for the viewer, until, rather than embracing the boy–she pauses for just a second–she embraces the grenade instead and continues the mission she imposed on her child: murdering Americans. At that moment, the audience in the theater where I saw the movie gasped. Kyle fires, saves the lives of his fellow soldiers, and in those few seconds, viewers have a glimpse of the moral complexities of combat, though none cheer, and none are so simplistic, so wrapped in ideology, as to imagine any of it as easy or morally satisfying as Taibbi claims.

Sniper is a movie whose politics are so ludicrous and idiotic that under normal circumstances it would be beneath criticism. The only thing that forces us to take it seriously is the extraordinary fact that an almost exactly similar worldview consumed the walnut-sized mind of the president who got us into the war in question.

It’s the fact that the movie is popular, and actually makes sense to so many people, that’s the problem. ‘American Sniper has the look of a bona fide cultural phenomenon!’ gushed Brandon Griggs of CNN, noting the film’s record $105 million opening-week box office.

By now, regular readers, I’m sure, are wondering: “where’s the movie criticism? Where’s any commentary about the elements of movie-making, about the acting, the authenticity of the sets, props, costumes, and special effects and their effect on the audience, the realism, or lack thereof, of the dialogue? Where indeed.

Well done, Clint! You made a movie about mass-bloodshed in Iraq that critics pronounced not political! That’s as Hollywood as Hollywood gets. The characters in Eastwood’s movies almost always wear white and black hats or their equivalents, so you know at all times who’s the good guy on the one hand, and whose exploding head we’re to applaud on the other.

In this case that effect is often literal, with ‘hero’ sniper Chris Kyle’s ‘sinister’ opposite Mustafa permanently dressed in black (with accompanying evil black pirate-stubble) throughout.

Here Taibbi exposes his lack of understanding of the necessities of combat. The kind of black hat/white hat symbolism he decries is absent in this movie. The good guys and bad guys are easily identifiable because of their actions, not their clothing, and those actions are not in any way a Hollywood contrivance or a scriptwriter’s fantasy. Tiabbi is upset not because the dialogue is inaccurate or jingoistic, but because it is all too accurate. Kyle’s “white hat” is camo or desert tan to better fit in with his surroundings, and the enemy sniper, Mustafa, in his relatively few onscreen minutes, wears some black clothing, the better to blend into the shadows snipers rely upon to survive. This is accurate and effective filmmaking, not simplistic moralizing.

Eastwood, who surely knows better, indulges in countless crass stupidities in the movie. There’s the obligatory somber scene of shirtless buffed-up SEAL Kyle and his heartthrob wife Sienna Miller gasping at the televised horror of the 9/11 attacks. Next thing you know, Kyle is in Iraq actually fighting al-Qaeda – as if there was some logical connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

Which of course there had not been, until we invaded and bombed the wrong country and turned its moonscaped cities into a recruitment breeding ground for… you guessed it, al-Qaeda. They skipped that chicken-egg dilemma in the film, though, because it would detract from the ‘human story.

It is Taibbi that makes simplistic leaps of logic. It’s stupid for Americans to be horrified by scenes of 9-11? Only if one is a committed, anti-America leftist. Eastwood isn’t making a direct connection between Iraq and 9-11, but there is surely a connection between Islamist terrorism and 9-11. In a very real sense, we fight and kill them over there, or on our own soil, a point clearly made by the movie and an inescapable reality. Our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan attracted tens of thousands of jihadists that would have been otherwise available to attack elsewhere, including in America and has been successful in preventing another 9-11 to date.

Taibbi also can’t let go of the idiotic leftist notion that our actions and beliefs are responsible for Islamic terrorism. It is our mere existence–we are not Muslims, and not the right kind of Muslims–that motivates the war against western civilization. Even if we withdrew entirely within our own borders, Islamists would only be encouraged and redouble their efforts to conquer the world. For such withdrawal, their path to victory would be easier.

Consider what passes for criticism in Taibbi’s rant. Eastwood should have depicted Chris Kyle proclaiming that everything he believed was wrong, America was evil, and all of his efforts were self-defeating? And this would have been true to the book, and to the internal logic of the movie how, exactly? Contradicting the very character and the beliefs of the protagonist in the middle of the story would be the height of incompetence and stupidity–stunningly bad and incoherent movie-making–yet Tiabbi, the uber-critic, demands just that.

Again, where is the movie criticism? Where is any discussion of casting, of direction, of editing, camera work, sound, lighting, the integration of music and action?

When hunky Bradley Cooper’s Kyle character subsequently takes out Mustafa with Skywalkerian long-distance panache – “Aim small, hit small,” he whispers, prior to executing an impossible mile-plus shot – even the audiences in the liberal-ass Jersey City theater where I watched the movie stood up and cheered. I can only imagine the response this scene scored in Soldier of Fortune country.

PJboy

“Hunky Bradley Cooper’s Kyle character.” What a small, angry little man Taibbi is. Cooper’s physical portrayal of Kyle was so accurate Kyle’s wife, Taya, saw in Cooper her husband onscreen. Should Eastwood have cast a 98 pound weakling to better comport with metrosexual views of manliness? That’s right: Taibbi has nothing to say about casting.

The dialogue at which Taibbi sneers is also competent moviemaking, because it takes the viewer back to Kyle’s formative years as his father teaches him to shoot and hunt. Truth is truth, in boyhood and manhood.  Taibbi again demonstrates his lack of fitness to criticize the martial elements of the movie.  Not only was the shot depicted possible, sniper shots of that distance, and greater distance, have been made. The current record is, in fact, 1.54 miles (2707 yards).  Long-range rifle marksmanship is fully as much about the mental and emotional elements as equipment. Taibbi’s martial skill apparently does not extend so far as a google search.

I cannot speak to the movie theater in New Jersey where Taibbi saw the movie, but in the packed house in Texas where I saw it, by his lights surely full of simple-minded Bush and Cheney-appreciating drones, there was no cheering, and no one stood up. I, however, was gratified by the death of a particularly sadistic, Islamist murderer, a savage that has not killed those I love only because he has not had the opportunity to come to America because of men like Chris Kyle. I suspect my experience in “Soldier of Fortune country” was typical.

The problem of course is that there’s no such thing as “winning” the War on Terror militarily. In fact the occupation led to mass destruction, hundreds of thousands of deaths, a choleric lack of real sanitation, epidemic unemployment and political radicalization that continues to this day to spread beyond Iraq’s borders.

Yet the movie glosses over all of this, and makes us think that killing Mustafa was some kind of decisive accomplishment – the single shot that kept terrorists out of the coffee shops of San Francisco or whatever. It’s a scene that ratified every idiot fantasy of every yahoo with a target rifle from Seattle to Savannah.

Of course. America is always responsible for all of the evil in the world. It’s all our fault, and Eastwood glorifies that evil. Talk about simplistic. The scene Taibbi so blithely savages was a moment of catharsis, one small accomplishment in a much larger battle for the future of civilization. The movie portrays it as no more. It was important to Kyle and to the soldiers in that area of operations in Iraq, because that single shot saved innumerable lives, American and Iraqi.

What Taibbi and those like him cannot admit is that violence–war–does indeed solve things. Winning in war does indeed make a difference, and until we have a president that understands we are actually in a war and that we must win it–militarily, not by “smart diplomacy”–or watch liberty die around the world, Taibbi is right: there can be no “winning.” We cannot win a war we can’t admit we are fighting and are not committed to winning.

Perhaps that’s a large part of what so angers Taibbi. The moral clarity and innate decency of Chris Kyle as demonstrated in American Sniper, just might help to awaken an America that hasn’t yet realized we face a vicious, totalitarian enemy that is fully committed to unending war against us.  To leftists, that’s an unimaginable danger, for it would surely require that leftist politicians be marginalized or swept from power.

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.

One of the most wonderful things about America is that Taibbi is free to write a screenplay, obtain financing, and make his own movie about the evil of the Rumsfelds and Cheneys. Oh wait: that kind of movie has already been made, multiple times, and virtually no one, apart from people like Tiabbi, spent good money to see them.

But if Taibbi is right, how can this be? Perhaps Americans have more than sufficient opportunity to be continually harangued about politics by leftists. Could it be that when they go to the movies, they want not only to be entertained, but to be spiritually uplifted? Could it be they want to consider the more compelling moral and ethical questions of our time–of any time–rather than being exposed to the spittle-flecked, mindless hate of leftists?

Here’s what Taibbi apparently considers the zenith of leftist cinema criticism:

And plenty of other commentators, comparing Kyle’s book (where he remorselessly brags about killing “savages”) to the film (where he is portrayed as a more rounded figure who struggled, if not verbally then at least visually, with the nature of his work), have pointed out that real-life Kyle was kind of a dick compared to movie-Kyle.

“Kyle was kind of a dick.” There, ladies and gentlemen, is the theme of Taibbi’s essay. I suspect this is not something Taibbi would have dared say to Kyle’s face, and if he did Kyle would almost certainly have laughed.  Where’s the honor in punching a pajama boy?

Taibbi continues to reveal his embarrassing lack of understanding of war and the warrior mindset:

(The most disturbing passage in the book to me was the one where Kyle talked about being competitive with other snipers, and how when one in particular began to threaten his “legendary” number, Kyle “all of the sudden” seemed to have “every stinkin’ bad guy in the city running across my scope.” As in, wink wink, my luck suddenly changed when the sniper-race got close, get it? It’s super-ugly stuff).

In this passage, Kyle is commenting on the inexplicable currents of war, nothing more. Combat is moments of sheer terror interspersed among long periods of routine. A sniper might not see a viable target for days, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, a great many. Taibbi is incapable of understanding that in war, the enemy always has a vote. Simply declaring the war over or won and withdrawing greatly encourages an enemy that doesn’t believe it’s over, that doesn’t recognize defeat, and that has no doubt it can win ultimate military victory.

Taibbi argues that movies about soldiers are some kind of conspiracy to distract Americans from the issues he considers important:

That doesn’t mean Vietnam Veterans didn’t suffer: they did, often terribly. But making entertainment out of their dilemmas helped Americans turn their eyes from their political choices. The movies used the struggles of soldiers as a kind of human shield protecting us from thinking too much about what we’d done in places like Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos.

This is going to start happening now with the War-on-Terror movies. As CNN’s Griggs writes, ‘We’re finally ready for a movie about the Iraq War.’ Meaning: we’re ready to be entertained by stories about how hard it was for our guys. And it might have been. But that’s not the whole story and never will be.

“It might have been” hard for our soldiers. That’s big of Taibbi. And again, he’s free to make the movie he thinks more appropriate to the national dialogue. The marketplace will render appropriate criticism of his efforts.

We’ll make movies about the Chris Kyles of the world and argue about whether they were heroes or not. Some were, some weren’t. But in public relations as in war, it’ll be the soldiers taking the bullets, not the suits in the Beltway who blithely sent them into lethal missions they were never supposed to understand.

And filmmakers like Eastwood, who could have cleared things up, only muddy the waters more. Sometimes there’s no such thing as “just a human story.” Sometimes a story is meaningless or worse without real context, and this is one of them.

Reading this, one might almost think Taibbi has at least a scintilla of appreciation for our soldiers, except for his view that even the best of them are kind of dicks, incapable of understanding what they’re doing or why, virtual Forrest Gumps without Forrest’s innate honor and humanity, which Taibbi is also incapable of recognizing.

American Sniper is “meaningless or worse without real context”? Those voting on the Academy Awards might agree, but actual Americans, those in “Soldier of Fortune country,” are voting with their hard-earned dollars and critiquing with their tears, prayers and respectful silence.

Taibbi can’t understand or admit that it is men like Chris Kyle, and other denizens of Soldier of Fortune country, that make it possible, that have always made it possible, for snide, ungrateful, irrationally angry people like him to insult and slander them and America. Far better men and women than Matt Taibbi have given the last, full measure of devotion so he can write, sneering, socialistic rants disguised as artistic criticism.  I now have a better understanding of why Rolling Stone’s journalistic integrity is in the toilet, so to speak.

As long as liberty prevails, history will kindly remember Chris Kyle and American Sniper. Matt Taibbi? Rolling Stone?  Not so much.