Commentary

With Cross-gender Appeal, "American Sniper" Sets Box Office Records

Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” took in $90.2 million domestically over the weekend — with another $15 or so million expected today — setting records for a January opening and for a drama in any month. Disparaging tweets by director Michael Moore and actor Seth Rogen, meanwhile, garnered more headlines and touched off culture-war skirmishes that, if nothing else, will sell even more tickets.

The film “jumped from 21st place at last weekend's U.S. box office, after a limited release in just a few screens,” the BBC reports. It also earned six Oscar nominations last week, including best picture and a best actor nod for Bradley Cooper.

Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. head of domestic distribution, observed that the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal sniper who served four tours in Iraq with 160 “confirmed” kills, had become “an instant cultural phenomenon,” according to NBC News.

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“It’s packing them in across blue states and red states,” Fellman tellsVariety’s Brent Lang. “It’s playing well in big cities and in the heartland. This is about patriotism and all the things people say the country is lacking these days.”

Lang sees its success, along with that of “Lone Survivor” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” as evidence of a revival of the genre of the war movie even as “America’s military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan remain deeply unpopular with the general public.”

“These were truly American stories that resonate,” Rentrak senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian tells Lang. “They dramatize the tremendous valor of many of the wars’ participants.”

Kyle first told his story in a book written with author Scott McEwen that was published in 2011.  

Calling Kyle “humble” in a replay of an interview he did with him three years ago, NBC News’ weekend anchor Lester Holt led a story Saturday with Kyle telling him, “If I could figure out the number of people I saved, that’s something I would brag about.” Kyle, who  suffered from PTSD when he returned home to Texas, became active in helping other vets adjust to normal life. He was allegedly  shot to death by one of them at a shooting range in February 2013.

The movie “toggles between action-packed sequences of Iraq War combat that wouldn’t be out of place in a ‘Call of Duty’ video game and more intimate scenes of Kyle’s relationship back home with his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), and their two children,” the Los Angeles Times’ Josh Rottenberg wrote in a piece earlier this month. 

“From the outset, the studio carefully devised a marketing campaign that would showcase the film's wrenching emotional firepower as much as, if not more than, its gunplay,” he reports. 

“When we screened the film for the first time, it hit me like a punch in the stomach,” Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and international distribution for Warner Bros. tells Rottenberg. “What struck me was that this was a very personal story, and it could have been told about any soldier in any war at any time in our history.”

Along those lines, “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2,” Moore (@MMFlint) tweeted yesterday afternoon. “We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse.”

Among others, “Moore’s tweet attracted the ire of former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) and actor Rob Lowe (@RobLowe), who voiced their disapproval,” The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern reports

Jane Fonda, meanwhile, who “of course, attracted the ire of many Americans when she took a trip to North Vietnam in 1972 …” was positive in her tweet about americansnipermovie.com that Marlow says is “divid[ing] audiences — and Hollywood celebrities — along political lines.”

Fonda wrote: “Just saw ‘American Sniper’ Powerful. Another view of ‘Coming Home.’ Bradley Cooper sensational. Bravo Clint Eastwood.”

“Actor Seth Rogen [@SethRogen] — along with fellow obese star Michael Moore — is unhappy with Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster, American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper,” writes Katie McHugh on Breitbart.com. Rogen is so unhappy, he compared … the lame Nazi parody film ‘National Pride,’ shown in Quentin Tarantino’s movie, Inglourious Basterds, to Eastwood’s patriotic masterpiece.” 

Yesterday’s post had touched off more than a thousand comments — and counting — by early this morning.

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