26 Jan 2015

American Sniper misses mark

8:38 am on 26 January 2015

A film by Clint Eastwood is stirring up controversy over its depiction of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

American Sniper is smashing box office records and dividing opinion internationally.

The film is based on the story of US soldier Chris Kyle , who killed more than 160 people during his four tours of duty in Iraq, making him the most deadly sniper in American history.

Publications such as Rolling Stone suggested the film's depiction of the fighting that followed the invasion of Iraq had been dumbed down, and lacked context and historical background.

Activist and director Michael Moore took to social media, accusing the film confusing the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and having characters call Iraqi people 'savages'.

Lecturer in politics at Massey University, Nigel Parsons, said such lack of context could be dangerous.

"For an American audience, I think that de-contextualisation and ... de-humanisation of the Iraqi people, in a way makes it easier for something like the gross misadventure which was the invasion of Iraq to happen again.

"Remember that the Iraqi people are human beings, as we are, and that there is an Iraqi perspective on this."

But for Fairfax Media film reviewer Graeme Tuckett, such concerns were not warranted.

"It's never a good time to make a film which some people could interpret as being anti-Iraqi or anti-Middle East or anti-Islam. But I don't believe that is what [director Clint] Eastwood set out to do.

"What Chris Kyle did was pretty insane, pretty psycho by a lot of people's standards. But Eastwood doesn't judge him one way or another. He just says these are the facts of a soldier's life."

Nevertheless Dr Parsons says audiences should be wary.

"I think it's likely to depend on which New Zealander watches it and what sort of perspective they bring to it, but I think it does behove us all to at least try to remain mindful of the context, the human context in which this violence unfolds."

Mr Tuckett says viewers should make their own judgements.

"You have to go see the film for yourself and work out basically what side of the line you're on yourself.

"I don't think the film is going to change anybody's mind one way or another; personally I think it's an anti-war film."

The Oscar-nominated film has taken in more than $US200 million in US and Canadian theatres since 16 January, Reuters reports.

In its second week of wide release, the film scored the third-biggest January weekend in US box office history, according to tracking firm Rentrak, and was now playing in 3,755 theatres - the most ever for an R-rated film.

New Zealand viewers spoken to by Radio New Zealand seem to have enjoyed the film.

"I thought it made him [Chris Kyle] look pretty heroic and patriotic, that sort of thing" says movie-goer Matthew Ihaku. "I thought it was good overall."

Nick Kempster recently saw the film and agrees, but acknowledges others might not feel the same.

"There was a lot of bad talk about it being classic American propaganda and whatnot. I just thought it was another Hollywood retake."