Con­ser­va­tives fuel box-of­fice ride for

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By JAKE COYLE in New York

Empty seats were hard to come by atClint East­wood’s Amer­i­can Sniper over the New Year week­end, where the R-rated Iraq War drama — all words sel­dom at­tached to “block­buster” — rolled to the kind of run­away suc­cess that makes Hol­ly­wood sit up and take no­tice.

The film, which blew away box-of­fice ex­pec­ta­tions with a su­per­hero­sized $107 mil­lion over the four-day week­end, was in many ways an old­fash­ioned kind of Hol­ly­wood hit: It was built on star-power (Bradley Cooper and the 84-year-old East­wood), Os­car buzz (six nom­i­na­tions in­clud­ing best pic­ture) and a largely adult au­di­ence (63 per­cent over 25 years old).

Cer­tainly, the huge wide-re­lease open­ing­wouldn’thave been pos­si­ble with­out the strong support of a sel­dom-catered-to de­mo­graphic: con­ser­va­tives. Dan Fell­man, head of do­mes­tic dis­tri­bu­tion for Warner Bros, called con­ser­va­tives’ embrace of the film “huge”, not­ing it’s an au­di­ence dif­fi­cult to court.

“The au­di­ence watched this movie not as a war movie but as a movie about pa­tri­o­tism, a movie about a hero, a movie about fam­ily, a movie about serv­ing our coun­try,” says Fell­man. “And it struck a chord right across the board.”

Most Hol­ly­wood heart­land hits (like the re­cent Un­bro­ken, or The Last Temp­ta­tion of the Christ) have cap­i­tal­ized on faith-based au­di­ences. But Amer­i­can Sniper, about Navy SEAL marks­man Chris Kyle, is the kind of heroic war film Hol­ly­wood has largely re­sisted in de­pict­ing the of­ten un­pop­u­lar and less suc­cess­ful cam­paigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gitesh Pandya, ed­i­tor of BoxOf­ficeGuru. cred­ited the film’s tri­umph to a “per­fect storm” of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the savvy mar­ket­ing of Warner Bros, which stoked in­ter­est in the film by hold­ing it in very limited re­lease for two weeks.

“It was al­ways ex­pected to have a large con­ser­va­tive base come out for this film, as most mil­i­tary dra­mas do,” says Pandya. “But you can’t sell a movie to only a con­ser­va­tive au­di­ence and reach $107 mil­lion in a four-day week­end. You’re reach­ing every­body with those kind of num­bers.”

East­wood says Amer­i­can Sniper is an apo­lit­i­cal character study about Kyle, whowith 160 con­firmed kills, is con­sid­ered the most lethal sniper in US mil­i­tary his­tory. He was trag­i­cally killed at a shoot­ing range in 2013 by a veteran he was help­ing ad­just to life at home.

But the cel­e­bra­tion of an elite killer who called his Iraqi foes “sav­ages” has spawneda grow­ing storm of crit­i­cism. Seth Ro­gen com­pared the movie to Nazi pro­pa­ganda be­fore adding that he liked it on Twit­ter. Doc­u­men­tar­ian Michael Moore sparked more up­roar when he tweeted un­re­lat­edly about snipers not be­ing he­roes, be­fore adding that he thought East­wood con­fused Iraq for Viet­nam.

In the New Repub­lic, Den­nis Jett wrote that sin­gle-mind­edly treat­ing Kyle as a pa­triot “al­lows Americans to ig­nore the con­se­quences of in­vad­ing a coun­try thathad­noweapon­sof mass de­struc­tion, had noth­ing to do with 9/11, and had no mean­ing­ful ties to al-Qaida”.

Nev­er­the­less, Amer­i­can Sniper has­be­comea bona-fide cul­tural phe­nom­e­non, and the film will ar­rive at the Feb 22 Academy Awards the farand-away box-of­fice heavy­weight among the best-pic­ture nom­i­nees.

Few ex­pect the rise of Amer­i­can Sniper to­pushit to Os­car vic­tory. But with box-of­fice re­ceipts head­ing to well over $200 mil­lion in North Amer­ica, the ef­fect of Amer­i­can Sniper will likely be — as all things suc­cess­ful in Hol­ly­wood are — end­lessly copied.

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