Substance over form

I saw American Sniper last night at the local Carmike. I usually do not go to Carmike’s or AMC or the other big chain movie theaters; I go to Alamo. Why? Someone brings you beer at Alamo. They don’t bring beer at Carmike’s. The beer at Alamo tends to cut down on the number of crying kids in the audience. Not so, Carmike’s. Alamo shows very funny clips before the previews. Carmike’s brings you PSA’s. I hate PSA’s: they presume all of us are idiots. But, the local Alamo was sold out and I wanted to see what all the fuss was, so, Carmike’s.

And I do not see what all the fuss was.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good movie, the battle scenes alone worth the price of admission. But…but, it’s not Best Picture. I thought Unbroken was ten times better. While everyone and his cousin is gushing over Bradley Cooper’s performance, I found it wooden. Indeed, other than the special effects, it’s pretty standard war movie fare, so what’s everybody getting excited about?

Simple: confusion of subject with form.

See, this is a movie about an American Hero, so you’re supposed to proclaim it throughout the land. Well, you proclaim Chris Kyle, because he is truly an American Hero and quite an astonishing person (and who died in what I think is an astonishingly trivial manner, given all that he accomplished in his life). But, that doesn’t mean the form of the story (in this case, a movie) is up to par.

The same thing happens in books. Proclaim the novel because it’s about Dying Teenagers or very interesting sexual peccadillos but, when looked at critically, those novels are dreck. Poorly written. Want to throw them across the room. Which is heresy! Heresy, I say! It’s about Dying Teenagers and interesting sexual peccadillos so it must be good! It MUST be!

Not necessarily.

And that’s what’s happening here. American Sniper must be good because it’s about Chris Kyle. And it IS good.

Just not that good.

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