When I returned The Rewrite to the DVD store yesterday, I discovered that one copy of American Sniper, the last on my list of Academy Award Best Picture nominated films, had been returned and was on the shelf. I’ve been reluctant to watch this movie, knowing it is a true story and how the story ends, and because I am not a fan of war movies. I am not a fan of war, is a more accurate statement. I’ll not debate the merits of war. Having just passed Memorial Day, and feeling gratitude for my freedoms, which have been hard earned and maintained at a price, it is not my place to say whether war is right or wrong. Unfortunately, although I would wish it otherwise, war seems inevitable. My thoughts, after watching the movie, are on Chris Kyle, and on the strength of the film.
American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jake McDorman, Luke Grimes and Sammy Sheik. It was directed by Clint Eastwood and is based on the autobiography by the same name, written by Chris Kyle. The action/biography has a R rating, for strong and disturbing war violence, language and mature themes, and has a run time of 2 hours and 12 minutes. It was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor for Cooper, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, for which it won its only Oscar.
Chris Kyle (Cooper) is a Texan, a wanna be cowboy and rodeo rider, a skilled and gifted marksman with a rifle, a man ready to fall in love and settle down. At the age of 30 his life shifts and he joins the Navy, becoming a Seal and training as a sniper so that he can fight terrorism. He meets Taya (Miller), the woman he wants to marry, as he is completing his training, and wed her he does. Shortly after, he ships out on his first tour of duty in Iraq.
Kyle immediately bonds with his team, taking his role as protector very seriously. His skill as a marksman makes him the best sniper in American history. Some of his targets are children and women, intent on killing those under his protection. He takes no joy in doing his job so well. But he does excel, earning the name The Legend before he completes his first tour. In the search for an al Qaeda leader named Zarqawi, and his ruthless comrade, The Butcher, Kyle learns of his counterpart, a Syrian sniper called Mustafa (Sheik), known for making nearly impossible shots.
Kyle serves four tours of duty. Between each tour, he returns home to his wife and growing family. But his heart, his mind, his determination to protect, are still in Iraq. He struggles with being a civilian, a husband, a father. He can’t find his purpose. The call of his team, his brotherhood, is stronger than the desire to remain safely at home. He returns to war, again and again. First to hunt down the man known as The Butcher, and ultimately, to take out Mustafa.
Even with a price on his head in Iraq, he perseveres in his commitment to watch over and protect his comrades. The loss in combat of his two closest friends, Biggles (McDorman) and Marc (Grimes) enforces his determination, until at last, during his fourth and last tour of duty, he succeeds in his personal goal of taking out the other sniper. That accomplished, he finally feels ready to go home.
Stateside again, Kyle continues to struggle with living a civilian life, until he finds a way to help his brothers as they return home. He reaches out to veterans with disabilities and those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He enjoys taking these wounded individuals out to the shooting range and helping them with target practice, an act he feels helps them to feel like men again. Working with his comrades gives him purpose, gives him others to watch over, and with that, he moves beyond military life and begins interacting with his family, moving to a farm and teaching his son how to hunt.
On February 2, 2013, Kyle takes a troubled vet to the shooting range, with the intention of helping him, at the request of the young man’s mother. The film ends here, with a screen shot telling of Kyle’s death that day, while at the range. He was killed by the man he was attempting to help. Actual photos of Chris Kyle, his wife and his military funeral appear during the credits.
I can’t say that I enjoyed this film. During most of it, I repeated to myself, over and over, I hate war, I hate war. The scenes in Irag were difficult for me to watch. However, the film is very well done, with the focus on the main characters and their lives. I didn’t feel that there was a glorification of the acts of war.
These are my thoughts on the life of Chris Kyle. He initially wanted to serve and protect his country, and in doing so, his family. What took over his life, what seemed to feed his soul and make him come alive, was his determination to protect his brothers. I’ve heard how powerful a band of brothers becomes, how connected. And that is very evident in this film. Kyle did serve his country. He did love his family. His overwhelming, driving passion was to watch over his comrades and save as many as he could. His only regret was that he couldn’t save more.
The movie captured the deep commitment that Chris Kyle had, and the toll that the tours of duty took on his physical body and his mind. I hurt for Kyle, watching him struggle to adjust to a new way of life, post war. I hurt for his wife and children. The remaining years were short for them as a family, as Kyle found a way to protect and serve his comrades again, his wounded brothers. It appeared that just as the hero, the legend, was becoming an ordinary man again, a husband and a father, fate took him out. Both men, the decorated sniper and the young vet suffering from PTSD, were victims of a war that they fought in, and could never quite leave behind.
Chris & Taya Kyle