American Sniper, movie politics, and the snipe hunt for accuracy

February 6, 2015 9:39 PM

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One of the easiest ways to tell a reader that something is bad, not good, or maybe just not worth seeing is to say that it’s inauthentic, dishonest, or misleading, or that it otherwise mangles reality—better yet, the historical record. This is something critics do all the time, because it’s simple and effective and unchallenging, and like a lot of seemingly simple things, it represents a really complex maneuvering of values. Crying fraud (or some variation thereof) means drawing a line between the type of bogusness you’re willing to tolerate—such as the innate bogusness of movies and narratives—and the type of bogusness you won’t. This kind of line can’t be defended for very long without falling into essentialism, and it therefore tends to be drawn on a case-by-case, movie-by-movie basis; more often than not, it’s a way to express a gut-level dislike for something in terms most everyone can relate to, because no one likes being lied to, except when they do.

Confused yet? The problem with using history as a metric—besides the fact that it requires cherry-picking which falsehoods you’re cool with—is that it involves approaching movies based on how well they stick to a set of rules, rather than what they’re doing. All of this is complicated by the fact th...

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