I confess to having a soft spot for controversial, American filmmaker, Michael Moore. I am saying this upfront because I am painfully aware of the polarising effect he has on most people. You either love Michael Moore, or you hate him. I neither love nor loathe him. I have a grudging admiration for him, even though he I believe he has a propensity for bending the truth to suit his agenda. But let’s face it, plenty of people have been known to do that, such as 99.9 percent of our political leaders. Moore is a bright guy. A self made man who dropped out of University but relied on his writing and documentary film making talent to take him ultimately to Hollywood and Academy Award success. You have to admire the fact that he takes on causes that most shy away from. Moore grew up in Flint, Michigan and saw first hand how the General Motors plant closures ravaged his local community. GM was closing its factories and opening new ones in Mexico where workers were paid less. Moore decided to make a film about it called Roger and Me. It documented his personal journey and glorious failure to confront Roger B. Smith the former CEO and President of General Motors. To be fair, Moore has his critics and his flaws. For example, Harlan Jacobsen, editor of Film Comment magazine, rightly accused Moore of deliberately mixing up the chronology of events relating to the General Motors plant closures to suit his political narrative. In the film, Roger and Me, Moore makes the events that took place well before the GM redundancies, look like they were a direct consequence of laying off workers, which is not accurate. Film critic Roger Ebert later defended Moore’s reinvention of the GM timeline, as an artistic and stylistic choice, that had less to do with his credibility as a filmmaker, and more to do with the flexibility of film as a medium, that allows the truth to be bent for the noble cause of satire. I personally tend to side with Jacobsen rather than Ebert, on this issue, because to me credibility is everything.
Moore was the producer and director of Fahrenheit 9/11, which took a critical look at the Presidency of George W. Bush and the American War on Terror. It became the highest grossing documentary of all time and won a Palm D’Or award for Moore. He also won an Academy Award for the best documentary, Bowling for Columbine, which examined the causes of the Columbine High School massacre. Moore is a strident critic of America’s liberal gun laws. He once controversially said America’s national symbol should be the gun and not the bald eagle. It was said deliberately to create shock and outrage. And it did. Similarly in responding to the American gun lobby’s claim that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, Moore said: “they’ve got it half right. Except I would amend it to this, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Enjoy the rest of your day and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.”
Moore has a happy knack for getting himself into trouble or maybe trouble has an even happier knack of finding him. His latest foray into controversy is over the release of the Clint Eastwood movie, American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper. The film has so far been a huge box office hit, grossing $US 90 million at its opening. I haven’t seen the movie and even if I had I would not want to be the spoiler who gives away the plot. So I am not going to talk about what happens in the movie. But, American Sniper is based on an autobiography written by real life, American Sniper and Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle, who was credited with saving hundreds of American lives by making 160 confirmed kills, which is the most in American military history. He claimed to have shot 255 people. Kyle’s autobiography not only reveals how he became so good at his job, but also how the trauma of fighting in Iraq never left him.
Raised in rural Texas, Kyle started out as a cowboy and his initial application to join the Navy SEALs was turned down because a rodeo accident left him with metal pins in his arms. However, in the late nineties, the SEALS relaxed their entrance policy and Kyle was put through the tough selection and training regime, and he was good enough to become a Navy SEAL. In 2003, Kyle was deployed to Iraq, where he made his first, long distance sniper kill, even though he had not been trained as a sniper. Showing obvious talent, he was sent to the SEAL sniper school, where he was taught warfare’s loneliest and most controversial job. In 2004, Kyle was posted to Fallujah, west of Baghdad and a major battleground of Iraqi insurgency. It was during the battle for that city that he made his reputation. However, it was in 2006 in Ramadi, a city in central Iraq, that Kyle earned his nickname, ‘The Legend,’ from his fellow SEALs. One day, while positioned on a roof-top, Kyle watched a moped being ridden by two men heading down a street. One of the men dropped a backpack into a pothole. Realising it contained an improvised explosive device, Kyle fired a single shot at the speeding moped from a range of 150 yards, killing both riders at the same time. In 2009, after four tours of Iraq, Kyle retired. Not only had he shot more enemy than any other American sniper in history, he had also been awarded a chest full of medals, including three Silver Stars for gallantry. Ironically, Kyle found peacetime back in the United States far more dangerous than his tours of duty in Iraq. In February 2013 he was shot dead by a fellow American soldier, he was trying to help, who was suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder.
American Sniper is the hot tip to win Oscar glory, nominated for six awards including Best Actor and Best Picture. It has also been tipped for the best adapted screenplay, sound mixing, film editing and sound editing. But the release of the movie and the publicity surrounding it, was a temptation Michael Moore found too hard to resist. Moore, who famously criticized the Iraq War in his 2003 Oscar acceptance speech, fired off a tweet calling snipers ‘cowards.’
This is the actual transcript of his tweet:
“My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot uin the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse” — Michael Moore (@MMFlint)
As he should have expected, or might have even known it was coming, Moore was roundly criticised for his Twitter remarks. Both controversial American politician Newt Gingrich and actor Rob Lowe waded in to attack Moore:
“Michael Moore should spend a few weeks with ISIS and Boko Haram. Then he might appreciate@AmericanSniper. I am proud of our defenders.” — Newt Gingrich(@newtgingrich) ”
“Michael Moore Blasts #AmericanSniper Hero: Gunmen Are “Cowards”He’s kidding, right? — Rob Lowe (@RobLowe)
“Who’s taking more shit today, Michael Moore or the Packers coach? — Rob Lowe (@RobLowe)
Plenty of other Twitter and social media users were equally outspoken or more strident. That prompted Moore to adopt a more conciliatory posture claiming that he had never referred to the movie or Chris Kyle. Moore then tweeted a link to a lengthy Facebook page entry where he explained why he was tweeting about snipers in the first place, accusing the American press of drawing a mythical connection between his remarks and the Clint Eastwood film.
Moore later tweeted:
“Hmm. I never tweeted 1word bout AmericanSniper/ChrisKyle. I said my uncle killed by sniper in WWII; only cowards would do that 2 him, others “ — Michael Moore(@MMFlint)
That tweet was followed by this:
“So ppl want me 2tweet something bout American Sniper? Great acting! Powerful message. There “— Michael Moore(@MMFlint)
“Oh, and Iraqis are called “savages” throughout the film.” — Michael Moore (@MMFlint)
Moore wasn’t going to let the argument rest without having yet another swipe at America’s involvement in the Iraq War.
“Sorry to have to state the obvious again: Invading a country that hasn’t attacked you is illegal & immoral. History will judge us harshly.” — Michael Moore (@MMFlint)
It was classic Moorespeak. Creating controversy and then bending the narrative to suit his political agenda and draw attention to his anti war message. He may not have expressly referred to the Clint Eastwood’s movie but make no mistake that was his implicit rather than explicit intention. He doth protest too much and the ends justify the means is pretty much the way I would sum up Michael Moore here. Yet again he polarises people but then again it would be a surprise if he didn’t.
And while we are on the topic of the latest Clint Eastwood epic, American Sniper has attracted criticism on a couple of fronts quite separate of anything to do with Michael Moore. Apparently author Chris Kyle made a number of claims in his book that were patently false. Rather than deal with them, Eastwood chose to pretend they never existed which prompted this outburst from film critic Amy Nicholson: “ The falsehoods in American Sniper are so dangerous because a lot of the audience (will) leave the theatre thinking that Chris Kyle was a role model.”
But the bit I find the most fascinating is the fact that the film has come under fire over what has been described as the ‘stilted’ and ‘awkward’ scene in which actor Bradley Cooper, playing Kyle, holds a fake baby with his wife portrayed by Sienna Miller. Yep. No fooling. A fake baby. The Twittersphere has been full of it:
“Can everyone stop arguing about the politics/religion in #AmericanSniper, and focus on why warner bros can’t afford a less creepy fake baby? “ — Jillian Acreman (@jillianamelie)
“ That $90 million opening for American Sniper is 100% due to audience curiosity about the hilariously fake rubber baby in the second act “ — Zac Bertschy (@ANNZac)
Longtime film critic Anne Thompson wrote: “ Basically film professionals know that Eastwood likes to move fast on movie sets and recognise that he took the easy and less expensive route of using a fake baby – not even animatronic – that Cooper had to move himself to make it look lifelike.”
So if you ever needed a reason to go and see this movie, ironically Michael Moore has given you plenty, even if he might not think so. Forget about the Moore controversy I want to see this movie just for the scene with the fake baby. It sounds like a laugh riot.