I knew bits and pieces of Chris Kyle’s story before American Sniper came out. Since I’m not from Texas, here are the parts I knew:
- I had heard about a former Navy SEAL who got shot, together with his friend, by a vet with PTSD – while they were trying to help him.
- I had heard about a former SEAL who got sued by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, because of some dispute about a bar fight or Jesse insulting SEALS, and that the vet had died. I heard that “The Body,” who’s pretty obviously a douchebag, was continuing to pursue the vet’s widow and thought – more Jesse Ventura douchebaggery. I read his excuse or reason for why he wanted to keep going after the widow and thought “douchebag.”
When I saw the trailer for American Sniper, I could tell it would be good, and was a little surprised to see when it said “based on the true story of America’s deadliest sniper.”
“That’s Carlos Hathcock,” I thought.
It was. I learned differently when I learned more about Chris Kyle, and of course Carlos Hathcock was his hero.
Then I saw my friends making comments about “liberal” criticism of the movie. Oh, well, it’s Clint Eastwood, I thought. Any monkey can tell from the film trailer alone, knowing nothing else, that it’s not a “pro-war” movie. I thought it would be a lot more about the concerns of collateral damage in Iraq. It’s about what it is to be a man, ultimately. There’s not a decent man out there who would see this movie and not think, “That is the kind of man I aspire to be.”
The part of American Sniper that most-struck me was the conversation with Chris’ family at the dinner table, during which his father says, “There are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs.” Their dad wants to know which kind of person his sons are. After a brief discussion of a schoolyard fight during which Chris defended his brother, it becomes clear: Chris is meant to protect the sheep from the wolves.
Yes, I like this movie, but I like it because it’s a true story and one we need to hear. I have confidence that the movie is true to Chris Kyle’s story – and he had one hell of a clown car life*. One colorful post-war incident in Chris’ life was an attempted truck-jacking during which two complete idiots tried to steal his truck at gunpoint. Chris shot both dead, then calmly called the police, who upon arrival, learned they were in the presence of a living legend. This isn’t in the movie. Because there’s so much else.
There’s been a huge evolution in war movies and in movies about male stories, and Clint Eastwood has been a big part of it. His recognition that Chris Kyle’s story was one people would want to know shows this evolution. Nearly every Clint Eastwood movie I’ve ever seen is about what it means to be a man — an American man. I saw some commentary from Iraqi men that they wanted Iraqis to make movies about Iraqi men — exactly right. And they were secure enough to realize that American Sniper is about an American man. It didn’t need to tell the Iraqi stories (though if the critics bothered to look, the film did show the sniper Mustafa and made it clear – before the war, he was an Olympic medalist. It shows Mustafa leaving his home, wife and child to go out to kill – just like Chris Kyle). It showed a brute terrorist, “The Butcher,” the second man to Zarquawi, who tortured women and children with a drill. For Mustafa, I think the SEALS had respect and fear. “The Butcher” was justifiably what Chris Kyle said, “a savage.” I’m pretty sure the same thing motivated Mustafa as motivated Chris Kyle, just the same as it motivated the NVA sniper that Carlos Hathcock killed in a similar long-distance sniper showdown. Hathcock realized afterward that his NVA enemy had him in his crosshairs, and if he hadn’t made his shot at the second he did, he would be the dead one, not his enemy.
People do far, far worse things than Mustafa, Chris Kyle, or even the fictional “Butcher” in American Sniper.
It makes me feel pretty good to see some of the commentary from those who don’t like or are disturbed by the film. They almost look like some of my reviews.
“American Sniper” is an artless nuance-free hate piece built on insultingly unsound narrative ground. (that could be from “Amazon customer” but the guy did put his name on it)
Cooper looks the part, having bulked up for it, but he can’t do anything with the blandness of the character the script has given him. (I could think of a lot of words to describe Chris Kyle but “bland” isn’t one of them)
It’s like Chris’ father said. “There are three kinds of people, son. Sheep, wolves, and the sheep dogs who protect the sheep from the wolves.”
I can’t make up my mind whether the American Sniper critics, including those relentlessly “fact checking” the film, are sheep who perversely want their throats torn out, or the sort of limping, cringing, weak, runty wolves who lag behind the pack to lap up the spoils of meat and bone from the kills of the alpha pack members. I’m pretty sure Bill Maher is in that latter category. There’s also the fat wolf who can only howl for food.
I have no doubt that if he were here to say it, Chris Kyle would be the first to say it would be a better world if we didn’t have war. Because he was a sheep dog.
He didn’t make the war. He wouldn’t have made the war even if he could have. He was one of the many who fought in it. He did what he had to do, and what’s more, he was a real hero, because he and his family suffered just as all vets and their families do. He came home, he dealt with what he had to deal with (the aftermath, including PTSD) and was helping others when another vet who was worse off took his life.
American Sniper does in a few seconds what other films take an entire 90 minutes to do: show PTSD. I am among the women who can have some understanding of the scene where Chris sits with a beer, facing the TV, hearing and seeing the sights and sounds of war. Children scream, bullets, grenades and rockets fire. Then the camera turns to show a TV that isn’t on at all. That is PTSD. So is the scene where he’s sitting, not hearing a word Taya is saying, and jumps up to protect his son from the family dog, who was just playing. The people who say American Sniper doesn’t portray what PTSD is — do not know what it is. Chris Kyle did overcome it and he did so by helping others: one of the best ways. In the very end, Taya says he did come home, and he did.
Another of the best things about the film is the way it portrays Chris’ relationship with Taya and his children. It doesn’t draw back at all from her situation. She is coming out of the hospital after learning their first baby will be a boy, and she’s on the phone with Chris. She tells him it’s a boy, and then the firefight starts. She’s left alone, listening to this, and has no idea if her husband is alive or dead. There’ve been many days where I faced something that big alone. People are praising Bradley Cooper’s performance and rightly-so, but they should also praise Sienna Miller. She portrays Taya as strong and loving and amazing, a woman who holds the family together, but who also tells Chris that he’s losing himself (naaaahh, the movie doesn’t portray PTSD or the costs of war … this great man almost lost himself and his family because of what he was called to do!). At the end, when Chris calls her and says, “I’m ready to come home now” in the middle of another firefight, it is so . . . it would touch anyone’s heart.
Unless they were Michael Moore. In which case, I’m guessing he’d cry over a Philly cheesesteak. Double meat, double cheese. Whatever his favorite foods, he won’t be getting them at Brann’s Steaks and Sports Bar in Michigan.
Although Chris Kyle’s story will inspire most normal people, most people would not want to be Chris Kyle for real. Because there’s three kinds of people, just as his dad said.
*Clown car life – like a “clown car” plot where so much is stuffed in one story it can’t be believed. I have a clown car life for a woman, and I’m embarrassed about it.