I was introduced to Clint Eastwood via Philo Beddoe when Dad took us to the theater to see Every Which Way but Loose. I had not yet seen any Dirty Harry movies or even any episodes of Rawhide. So Philo was my first impression.
And it was a pretty accurate impression that represented most of Eastwood's characters. He was always the average Joe who rose above his situation with an honest and sometimes brutal defiance. As Dirty Harry he portrayed the cop who refused to play by the rules and dealt with criminals with a vigilante mentality. And we loved it.
I couldn't get enough of him. I became a huge Dirty Harry addict and, in fact, a fan of all his movies, even the not-so-good ones like The Gauntlet and Pink Cadillac.
In 1992, however, Clint Eastwood did something that moved him beyond idol status for me and elevated him into the annals of hero lore reserved only for a few people in history: he came out with Unforgiven. Taking a chance that America was ready for a more realistic view of human nature, he rolled the dice and came out a winner.
In Unforgiven, Eastwood tore down every stereotype that had plagued the silver screen since the beginning of time. The cowboy in the white hat, who was good in every sense of the word and in every aspect of life, facing the black-hatted villain who was the polar opposite, was not a concept to be found in this motion picture. In fact, we discovered that the bad guys were not really that bad, with one of them being perhaps the best person in the story, and the good guys were far from being commendable.
That movie still resonates with me because in reality, things are never black-and-white. There are always a million shades of gray -- always.
Eastwood's movies continued to amaze me from Million Dollar Baby to Grand Torino. Imagine an old white curmudgeon who comes to care for two young adults who were Hmong, and making the ultimate sacrifice to make sure they had a better life. I was absolutely blown away.
But, alas, as happens with many of our heroes in life, the pedestal has been broken and the lofty perch has come crashing to the ground. With his last movie, American Sniper, Eastwood has foregone the courageous reality of human nature and even the attempt to come to understand a foreign people.
This is not to take anything away from the accomplishments of Chris Kyle. To be a Navy SEAL is in itself incredible. To be the sniper with the most confirmed kills is an astonishing feat to be respected if not admired. Kyle deserved all the success from his book and his life deserves to be made into a movie.
But I would have preferred to see the real Chris Kyle, the one he told us about himself in his book. His hat was not entirely white, nor did he try to paint a false picture of who he was. In short, he was not dishonest about his feelings about killing people, so why did Eastwood feel the need to be?
In Kyle's book, he explains that he loved his job as a sniper. He loved killing people and wished he could have killed more. He even explained that although he did not do this, he wished he could have killed everyone carrying a Koran. And while these things might not make his character appealing to some people, you have to respect the honesty.
Clint Eastwood did not respect it. The man who took a chance making ground-breaking movies in the past that disposed of the classic good guy/bad guy scenarios; that delved into the contaminated reality of human nature to show us a more unmarred view of the world -- that man sold out. He reinvented Christ Kyle to be a soldier heavily burdened by his duty. After all, we can't have a hero who enjoys killing, even killing bad guys. He even invented a guy to don the black hat to complete the black-and-white illusion.
You could hardly argue with the results. In fact, you could say that he is laughing all the way to the bank as the movie continues to set records. From an entrepreneurial vantage point, you could call it a tremendous triumph.
And he was successful in making Kyle the greatest American hero in modern times, so much so that anyone who says anything negative about the movie is quickly pounced upon by fast-food patriots. Even Seth Rogen's seemingly harmless comparison to the movie within the movie of Inglorious Basterds has been met with an incredible backlash, like the one from Dean Cain for example. After reading Cain's tweet, I had the same thought as a lot of people: "Dean Cain's still alive?"
It is people like Cain, and there are literally millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, in this country who I refer to as fast-food patriots. You don't have to be a decorated sniper, or even serve your country in any way whatsoever, just be ready to pounce when someone even remotely says or writes something less than complimentary about this movie or about this war in general. It's an easy and surefire way to make a few brownie points with the public.
The way I see it, however, is that any negativity should not be aimed at anyone who expresses their opinion about the movie that doesn't coincide with the masses; it should be directed at the one who set us all up for these confrontations - Clint Eastwood.
Chris Kyle is a hero just like all of the members of the armed forces who did their parts, large and small, in a conflict where they fulfilled their oaths and did their duties. We don't have to make up stories about who they were as human beings. We don't have to make them physics professors, saints, great dancers, jugglers, organ donors, or whatever. They are heroes for doing their duty -- period.
That's how we pay our respects to them. Clint Eastwood did not even try. And that, to me, makes him unforgiven.