Archives For January 2015

With the release and success of the movie, American Sniper, whether they have seen the movie or not, everyone in the country, including many around the world, have strong opinions about it.

url-1Some say the movie is propaganda. Some say Chris Kyle is a murderer and a racist. Some say this is the greatest war movie of the past twenty years.

Unfortunately, most of these people have completely missed the point of the movie.

First, all war movies have a level of propaganda in them; from Band of Brothers to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon to Top Gun, and Lions for Lambs to Lone Survivor. Each one was created to cause viewers to learn and feel and do something.

Not every war movie resonates with people on such a mass scale, though. That is why American Sniper is so fascinating and worth the time to evaluate why.

It’s important to revisit the structure and purpose of a good story in order to best evaluate why this has happened.

Jonah Sachs writes from Winning the Story Wars,

“Good stories are structured just like baseballs. On the surface, we find the story’s visible elements: the setting, the characters, and the actions those characters undertake. These are the elements of stories we’ve all been familiar with since childhood. We know the cover and think we know everything there is to know. But there is so much more.

Just beneath the surface, the story finds its structure in the moral of the story. Without some kind of moral we instinctively reject a story as poorly told.

And then there’s the story’s core, hidden one layer deeper at the center of it all.

The values at the core of the myth provide its meaning and, unless we are looking for them, these values often remain hidden from our conscious minds.

Ultimately in a good story, the hero grows up.

Good stories are about healing a broken world through a life’s journey. Perhaps that was the point of the creators.

How does this apply to American Sniper?

american-sniper-bradley-cooper-sienna-miller1

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

 

In the movie, we follow Chris Kyle, a boy growing up to become a man. If this were Greek mythology, the Texas cowboy would be on a journey like Odysseus, Achilles or Perseus.

What I expected going into the movie was a patriotic feeling after finishing the movie. Yes, I felt very proud of Kyle as well as those many others who have volunteered to sacrifice their lives for our nation. The movie doesn’t address the politics of the Iraq war in any major way and some people think this makes it pro-war.

Director Clint Eastwood responded to critics that the movie is all about pro-war propaganda,

“The biggest anti-war statement in any film can make is to show ‘the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did,'”

He went on.

“One of my favorite war movies that I’ve been involved with is ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,'” he continued. “And that was about family, about being taken away from life, being sent someplace. In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case no good deed went unpunished.”

Screenwriter Jason Hall shared,

“Chris was a man who believed in something and who therefore was useful to a government that needed him to go to war. It cost him his physical health, his mental health and almost cost him his family — but Chris probably would have paid the price over and over again if he’d been asked, which is both patriotic and totally tragic.”

The biggest surprise of the movie

It was a feeling deep inside that was difficult to describe at time. The movie kept tugging at me to be a better husband and father. You leave with a feeling of wanting to do the right thing and make more of your life at the core of who you are. You get the sense that our lives are progressing toward something meaningful.

Still of Bradley Cooper and Madeleine McGraw in American Sniper (2014)

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Chris Kyle transforms in the story from being a boy to a rough cowboy, then to become a soldier, husband, father, and one wanting to help others.

To re-analyze the story structure of the movie; The surface story follows cowboy life, the soldier feeling the duty going to war, and every other fact of his life. The moral of the story is that war is glory and hell and causes incredible stress to family because of the psychological toll. The core of the story is Kyle’s journey to become a man.

It is fruitless to read another article about the movie until you have processed the core of the story. Leave the surface and moral to the pundits because they missed the big picture of what moves people.

American Sniper reminded me that often the surface themes of a movie are not enough. That is why I recommend re-reading books and re-watching movies. We can often miss the core of a story that ultimately will move us. That is why American Sniper is resonating.

The core of American Sniper is one that we are meant for a grand journey of life. It is not perfect but it is a true journey in our hearts.

 

 

Four years ago when I first read the highly acclaimed book, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit), I thought, this was an important book that was going to fly because of how strong the story was in the life of Louis Zamperini. Working in the publishing industry, it has been so encouraging to see people from all types of backgrounds read this story and enthusiastically recommend it to others.

I have since given the book as presents to numerous people. I seek out those who haven’t read it because Zamperini’s story is so inspiring. You don’t need to be a World War II enthusiast to appreciate it. It is a beautiful story of endurance and redemption.

A few years ago I read that the movie was quickly optioned to be adapted into a movie. It would be created by multiple Oscar winners; directed by Angelina Jolie and the screenplay would be adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen and a few others.

It was hard to not be excited about the possibility of how great this movie could be.

I waited in anticipation to see the movie and finally was able to this past week. The movie suffered what happens to so many great books.

unbrokenUnbroken the movie was good, but not great.

And I’m mad.

I’m mad because good movies don’t get shared by word of mouth. Great movies do and this just was not a great movie.

I also don’t want to hear the typical excuse from people, “the book is always better than the book.” That is an ignorant statement because movies and books are just different mediums of telling story.

I knew the film would not match the book and I was okay with it only because I read the full story of Zamperini’s life told so well by Hillenbrand. I was disappointed because so many people have gone to see the film, left disappointed, and probably did not know why. Sure they were impressed with his incredible life and enduring so much.

So, why did the movie fall flat?

According to authority on story told through film, Robert McKee, the first principle of adaptation is the following: The purer the novel, the purer the play, the worse the film.

All this means is that because Unbroken was a great book, it was much more difficult to transfer its greatness to film. But, it could be done.

Also, when a lesser talent (writer or director) attempt to adapt genius, the genius of the original writing will most likely be dragged down to the level of the adaptor.

Now, a lot of people will point out that Angelina Jolie is still a young director but I felt she did a fine job with the film for only her second time directing a feature film. There are many things in the movie that just felt awkward and disrupted the story. For example, why would you do a flashback in the middle of an intense air battle? The ending is also what fell flat because it is too abrupt. Finally, the core of an epic movie is the soundtrack and it just did not match the dramatic story being told. Finally, the key ingredient missing was the movie not being able to show the full transformation of Louie Zamperini. I don’t want to ruin the story for you but the final act of the book is what makes the first part of his dramatic story more meaningful; following Zamperini’s troubled youth, running in the 1936 Olympics, watching his life as a WWII bombardier, crashing in the Pacific and drifting for 47 days, and enduring over two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

unbroken-cover_custom-s6-c10McKee also writes, “The unique power and splendor of the cinema is the dramatization of extra-personal conflict, huge and vivid images of human beings wrapped inside their society and environment, striving with life.” He goes on. “This is what film does best, better than play or novel.”

The movie could have been great like the book but also different.

The filmmakers failed to show the full transformation of Zamperini’s life, which is where we witness true greatness.

Despite everything, I am thankful for this movie because Louis Zamperini got to spend in-depth time with Angelina Jolie, arguably one of the most populate entertainment stars in the world. Zamperini had the opportunity to share who he truly was to her, a man who lived an extraordinary life and one saved only by grace in Jesus.

In summary, if you are dissatisfied with the movie, turn back to the book. Read it. Then re-read it.

After all, good story always wins. Go read Unbroken. Go read good stories. 

 

Here are a few great movie adaptations to consider after you read and see Unbroken

To Kill a Mockingbird: It is rare that a great book can become a great film as well but it was done. I can’t imagine Atticus Finch better than how well Gregory Peck played him.

Gone Girl: I read the book last year and was mesmerized by its plot twists and turns. I couldn’t imagine how Gone Girl could be turned into such a great thriller of a movie but David Fincher did an excellent job

Lone Survivor: I read the book by Marcus Luttrell right after it came out in 2007. Director Peter Berg fought hard to make sure the movie was told well and did an excellent job adapting this true story to film.

World War Z: I loved the book, which serves as a first hand account of a fictional zombie war. When Brad Pitt led this great book to film, it was very different and faster as a movie but it had to be different. This is a rare movie that did a fabulous job to preserve the spirit of the book but also recognized that it had to be different to work well on-screen.

The Hobbit vs. Lord of the Rings: No doubt that LOTR and Hobbit are classic pieces of literature from J.R.R. Tolkien. LOTR the movies are treasures of bringing the books to life on film but The Hobbit falls very flat in its adaptation.

American Sniper: The book is highly acclaimed and I can only imagine how well Clint Eastwood will do with the movie, which releases in January, 2015.

If you are looking at some other great book to movie adaptations, here is a good list.