Birdman. Birdman for Best Picture.
For what it is, American Sniper is a great movie. It's the tragic story of Chris Kyle, based on his book of the same title and his untimely death. There are a lot of things this movie does well. It allows the viewer to feel the pressure when Kyle has to make the decision to shoot a child while on mission, a bold way to showcase the horrors of war. It shows how war affects those who serve and puts an important spotlight on PTSD - something that isn't always a focal point in war films. American Sniper puts you in the Navy SEALS's home as Kyle's wife struggles to raise kids on her own and battles with the constant fear of losing her husband. It even takes a second to remind us that there are a lot of veterans in facilities across the country who still suffer the effects of war.
Besides the use of a fake baby, American Sniper may have overlooked a few details that make the movie what it is and not the impactful movie it could be. One of my biggest gripes is the shining portrayal of veteran's homes facilities. Though it is a small part of the film, the glimpse we get is of an optimistic man ravaged by an IED but thankful for his hand in a place where he looks quite supported. Having spent time inside the walls of a veteran's facility, I can say that the environment is unimaginable, both physically and emotionally, and difficult to describe in words. People do a lot to support the homes, but as underfunded and crowded as they are, it's a lot to take in. Alas, it is a film about Chris Kyle, not the depiction of every soldier, so I won't linger on it too long.
This movie being the story of Chris Kyle, though, can be hard to remember sometimes. We forget that the Iraqi sniper is also defending his country and doing his duty but was made to be a villain while Kyle is hailed as a hero - something he struggles with in the movie but perhaps not so much in real life. If the film were true to Chris Kyle's biography, it could be understood as one man's experience with war. Instead, Clint Eastwood and the writers of American Sniper make Kyle look like a man torn by war instead of one with a thirst for both blood and fame. The script is bent to present a classic story of terrorists and American patriotism while glossing over the intricacies of war in the guise of a "human story." Furthermore, when anyone takes a critical look at it, they then become a target - as did Michael Moore despite his major contributions to veteran affairs. The end is somber and dramatic and I felt forced to keep my thoughts to myself for fear of being berated by the silenced audience I sat among. Intentional, I'm sure, but prohibitive nonetheless.
As an impact producer, I don't take lightly what stories are chosen to tell and how they affect the public. This movie is cheered for its look at mental illness, though I would argue that Birdman has a much more important story to tell in that regard.
As a film, Birdman pushes the medium in exciting ways. In what could have been just an interestingly surreal story, the film's artists turned it to be an innovative, emotional journey. This picture is truly an example of very good individual parts being combined into a stunning whole work. The story, score, acting, cinematography, pacing, and sound mixing in Birdman are all impressive in their own right, yet like any good team, the pieces come together to create a masterpiece. All of this is done to express mental illness in a meaningful way.
What I think is important about this movie, more than its aesthetic brilliance, is its eloquent depiction of a man who battles with everyday struggles like depression, fear of failure, the ups and downs of parenting, and the demands of a stressful work environment. Anyone can put themselves in his shoes. No, we don't have to crave fame to desire to be wanted and loved. We don't have to put ourselves on a big stage to feel close enough to the edge to want to jump. Birdman is a human story and how the filmmakers deal with Michael Keaton's character's emotions are artful and honest.
When was the last time you watched a film about mental illness from the perspective of the one experiencing it? Not to discount PTSD by any means, as it affects millions of people - from veterans to domestic violence survivors, those who have been in severe accidents to those who have witnessed tragedy. But in this film, you feel not only for Riggan Thomson (Birdman's main character), but with him as well.
So as we continue to talk about mental illness and as we look to media to tell stories that affect, challenge, and inspire us, let's give credit to the films that aren't just sensational, but are real, thoughtful, and push the medium in new ways.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below and keep the discussion going!