Mentally ill man killed by Detroit police had earlier encounter with officers

'Sniper' spins dramatic box office poison into gold

Tom Long
The Detroit News

One more thing about "American Sniper" ...

Yes, it's been controversial. Is it pro-war, right wing propaganda? Does it glorify a professional murderer who shot people from hiding? Is it a true portrait of an American hero or the idealization of a monster? Are audiences driven to it because of its bloodshed or because they find the story of Chris Kyle inspiring?

One thing's for sure — audiences have been driven to it. It brought in over $107 million after expanding to screens across the nation on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. As of this writing, it's expected to end up with a domestic box office of some $330 million, which would make it the second biggest R-rated movie of all time, behind "The Passion of the Christ" (which earned $370 million).

But here's something else that sets director Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" apart — it's a reality-based drama. No space aliens.

No dwarves or giant robots. Nobody in spandex with a colorful cape and superpowers. Just human beings.

How rare is that?

Right now "American Sniper" ranks as the No. 5 domestic box office hit released in 2014, with $253 million earned as of mid-week.

The last time a reality-based drama even made the box office Top 10 was when "The Blind Side" made $255 million in 2009. Five years ago.

So Americans will watch dramas about war and football. That has to say something about ... something.

"American Sniper" also points out the huge disparity between what Hollywood honors and audiences value. Out of the top 20 box office films in 2014, only two were dramas — "Sniper" and the year's No. 18 movie, "Gone Girl." The rest were all fantasies or comedies.

In fact, 16 of the year's top 20 movies were fantasies. Yet out of eight nominees for this year's best picture Oscar, none are fantasies.

There is one comedy — "The Grand Budapest Hotel" — as well as a comic drama, "Birdman." But aside from "Sniper," the rest of the nominees are precisely the kinds of films Americans mostly ignore.

So no matter what you think about "American Sniper," realize this: It has, at the least, gotten Americans to face a bit of the real world. It has stimulated serious discussion and debate in a way neither "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1" nor "Guardians of the Galaxy" — the top two films of 2014 — could.

The mix of controversy, popularity and tough competition likely means "Sniper" won't win the Oscar for best picture. But the film's ability to get a mass audience to sit through an adult drama about a subject — the Iraq War — that has previously been box office poison is still an accomplishment.

Now, Mr. Eastwood, could you please make a movie about climate change?