Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is proving both a big draw and talking point in Iraq and across the Arab world, where the film opened wide yesterday. In Iraq, where much of Chris Kyle’s story takes place, the film has reflected the bitter political divisions in the country. In capital city, Baghdad, the management of Iraqi Cinemas, which operates a four screen theatre there, pulled the film ahead of its scheduled bow Jan. 22 for fear of inciting protests and violence. In the semi-autonomous north of the country in the Kurdish cities of Irbil, Suleimaniya and Dohuk, however, American Sniper has opened strongly, second only to Liam Neeson-starrer Taken 3. To give a sense of the complexity of politics in the country, Iraqi Cinemas actually operates the three screen theatre in Dohuk and had no problem releasing the film there, despite its own self-imposed Baghdad ban.
“The Kurds don’t like the Baghdadis that much so they have no big problem seeing them getting shot by an American,” said one film exec who operates theaters in Iraq. “So far, the film is working well for our screens in Kurdistan.”
In Lebanon, American Sniper opened uncut and at number one with over 3100 tickets sold on its first day alone, comfortably ahead of Taken 3 and local Lebanese hit Single, Married, Divorced.
Elsewhere, across the region, the film is facing a mixed reception. American Sniper opened in the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait, albeit with cuts, particularly to a contentious scene involving a Koran. The film was initially rejected by censors in Jordan, which borders Iraq and contains a significant Iraqi population estimated at 200,000 or 4-5% of the population. There are plans to re-submit the film to censors in the coming days with more cuts to enable the film to get the greenlight to be released in time for next weekend.
Clint Eastwood’s account of former Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the “most lethal sniper in U.S. history”, has proven as polarizing a film as it has a phenomenon at the domestic box office. The film also opened strongly this week in the U.K. and previously gave Eastwood his biggest ever opening in Italy.
Warner Bros has used much of the same powerful emotional marketing materials that scored such a bulls-eye with American audiences in the international roll-out and tried to focus on the personal dimensions rather than the political aspects of the story.
Aside from the positive notices for the film as a piece of cinema, there has been criticism in the international media of the film’s perceived whitewashing of Chris Kyle’s actions.
“It’s lean, tough and tightly paced, darting from the rooftops of Falluja down through the ruined streets where the yellow dust swirls,” wrote one British review in The Guardian newspaper. “But the film leaves a mass of casualties on either side of the frame.”