American Sniper

I was thinking…

…reviewing a film about a real American war legend would be difficult enough, but to write about it when that legend has literally passed into legend is nigh impossible. But, here goes…

As much as I hate being one of the rabble shuffling into a crowded theater to see a film generating Oscar buzz, I feel that for American Sniper, that cattle-like experience is justified. In fact, I think it’s necessary in order to begin to appreciate what the late Chief Chris Kyle and his fellow veterans have gone through and continue to go through on our behalf. To paraphrase what I heard a Marine say a few days ago, Freedom isn’t free, but the men and women in the armed forces will gladly pay our share. If not for their continued sacrifice, we would not have the freedom to even watch a film like this one. We are able to sit in a comfortable theater, buy some overpriced popcorn and settle in without fear of some nutjob dropping a bomb on the building in the middle of the film. So, to you men and women in uniform I say, from the very depths of my heart, thank you and may God bless you and watch over you and your families.

Okay, I’ll move on…for now.

For anyone not already in the know, American Sniper is director Clint Eastwood‘s film adaptation of a book co-written by ex-Navy SEAL and sniper Chris Kyle about his real life experiences both in combat and at home. Before I continue, it is important to understand that the film still carries the disclaimer at the end that some events and dialogue had been embellished for dramatic purposes.

Nevertheless, Clint Eastwood does a wonderful job of balancing the different aspects of the story. Introducing Chris Kyle and essentially providing the “origin story,” if you will, in the first 20-30 minutes, the remaining nearly two hours is woven with the threads of Kyle’s four tours in the Middle East, his life at home, the emotional torment endured by his wife, the psychological toll the theater of war plays on a man, and the gritty, horrifying footprint human conflict leaves upon all those left in its wake.

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, A-Team) does stunning work portraying the SEAL. So convincing a job he does, in fact, I completely forgot I was watching the actor Bradley Cooper at all. And for the record, I was very skeptical about him being cast in this role in the first place. I am very happy to admit I was wrong in this case, however. Cooper not only physically transformed himself by packing on 40 pounds of muscle, he studied countless tapes and interviews of Chris Kyle in order to get the accent, the cadence of speech and the mannerisms down, and he interacted with Kyle on a personal level before the latter’s murder. The end result is no longer a character or portrayal but rather a believable human being.

The pace of the film is rarely slow, save for a few moments at home; but those are short and, I feel, essential to painting a wider picture of the man’s life. Even though American Sniper is a biopic about a single man’s experience, how that man’s experience affected the lives of those around him is just as important to the story. After all, Mel Gibson’s 2002 film adaptation of the book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, added the entirely new dimension of how the war in Vietnam was affecting the wives and families of the soldiers fighting and dying in the conflict–a dimension completely non-existent in the book.

The screenwriter for American Sniper, Jason Hall, made a point to bring these issues to the fore when he said, referring to Chief Kyle’s wife and children: “I saw this war on them. I saw a family that had been through his four tours of duty. And everything that he had gone through over there, they went through at home.”

Eastwood also touches on the lasting horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)–what was once called “shell shock” or “the thousand yard stare.” Although he does not dedicate a tremendous amount of screen time on it, its presence is certainly felt and rightly so.

All that being said, I feel I must address the controversy this film has stirred. There are those in Hollyweird (and I will not justify their words by even mentioning their names) who have called this film “jingoistic,” “propaganda,” and have even gone so far as to label Chris Kyle and his fellow snipers “cowards.” Even rewriting those tags (or hashtags, if you will, as these morons have only had the courage to badmouth the dead through Twitter) makes me feel dirty enough. But I feel it is necessary to bring them up to point out the one simple fact: none of these actors or filmmakers has ever served in the armed forces, nor did they know Chris Kyle or his family. They do not know nor understand what it must have been like for him, his wife, his fellow brother-in-arms, or his friends. American Sniper is a film adaptation of one veteran’s experiences and should be viewed as such.

Furthermore, to those who think it is some way glorifying war and killing, then I say you obviously haven’t seen the movie. Roughly 150 years ago, Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman said, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all Hell.” If one really pays attention, there is nothing in American Sniper that would contradict that. If you start thinking that way, I suggest you ask yourself this: would you willingly, by choice, put yourself through anything shown in that film? And if so, would you do it on the behalf of other people? Think about it, then get back to me. Show me wherein the glory lies.

Yes, some of his fellow soldiers lauded him as being “The Legend” and noted his confirmed kill number as something of which to be proud. I choose to see a man who did what he believed in, in order to save the lives of the men serving around him. At no point in the film does he say, “I wish I could have killed more bad guys.” Instead, he says, “I wish I could have saved more of our guys.”

Regardless of your feelings on the war in the Middle East or war in general, I highly suggest seeing this movie. Yes, it is somewhat graphic. Yes, it will make you break out in a cold sweat at times. But those are crucial things in order to hammer home the fact that war is not pretty, nor is it ever a “good” thing. There are wars and actions in war, however, that are necessary. American Sniper is about a man and his family who understood that all too well. And there are thousands more who have served or are still serving who also understand that.

Screenwriter Jason Hall will back me up: “There are many soldiers like Chris–some of them didn’t come home to book deals and applause–but they all made a great sacrifice. So, I hope that we can see the sacrifice of every soldier out there.”

Ammo Dump rating: 10 out of 10 .300 Winchester Magnum rounds

American Sniper
Rated R
Run time: 132 minutes

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