American Sniper: The Story of a Quintessential American Hero

Curtis Kalin | January 19, 2015 | 1:31pm EST
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**This review contains mild spoilers**

In a culture that often portrays the world only in a way that some wish it to be, the movie American Sniper does otherwise – it simply, directly, and honestly depicts the reality of the life of a legendary soldier.

Directed by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood, American Sniper brings to the silver screen the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper who racked up over 160 confirmed kills during his four tours of duty in Iraq. A born-and-bred Texan, Kyle joined the SEALs in 1999. Once in Iraq, his seemingly endless string of kills earned him the moniker, “The Legend” by his fellow SEALs.

One of American Sniper’s finest qualities is that it pulls no punches. The R rating is appropriate because war is an R-rated enterprise. It is brutal, harsh, and perilous. When teams of Marines were clearing houses in the most dangerous Iraqi cities, snipers like Kyle provided a security blanket from potential ambushes that could kill dozens.

In the film, one of Kyle’s fellow soldiers remarked to him that, “Guys feel like they’re invincible when you’re covering them.”

The dramatic portrayal of war is the most realistic I have ever seen on screen and, according to veterans, is an accurate portrayal of what the situation was like in Iraq.

The reality faced by U.S. soldiers there was one where choices had to be made that often ranged from difficult to gut-wrenching. Kyle’s first confirmed kill in the film was a child whose mother had slipped him a mortar to use on an American Humvee.

Another scene shows a child attempting to lift an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) from a fallen insurgent in an effort to fire on an American vehicle. From an adjacent rooftop, Kyle quietly begs the kid to put the weapon down. He does not want to fire, but he will if he is forced.

Unlike the ground troops that cleared neighborhoods house to house, a sniper’s decision-set is much more nuanced and judgment-based. Very rarely is a situation black or white.

The repeated mental trauma of those war-experiences takes a toll on Kyle when he returns home. His wife and children suffer an immense burden as Kyle develops tell-tale signs of PTSD. He loses focus. He cannot slow his heart rate. He snaps at normal behavior as if it were in a war setting.

All of this torment is set to a backdrop of Kyle’s overwhelming sense of patriotism and fervor to serve. He accepts the burden for himself and, at times, at the expense of his wife and children. He is almost too eager to return to the war theater to be with his fellow brothers in arms. Only when he faces a no-way-out scenario during his final tour does he make the emotional satellite call to his wife admitting, “I’m ready to come home.”

However, after he reorients himself to life stateside, Kyle says he felt like he quit by not returning for a fifth or sixth tour. His way of quelling that notion was to help other returning soldiers. It was in performing that duty that he was killed.

The somber end to his life in the film left the audience in my theater silent. As the epilogue began and the end credits rolled, tears streamed down nearly every face.

Actor Bradley Cooper’s transformation into Chris Kyle is Oscar-worthy. Having briefly followed Kyle’s story, Cooper’s portrayal is a stunning display of on-screen drama. Movie-goers seemed to concur. The film made more than $105 million in its opening weekend, breaking box-office records.

Chris Kyle was not perfect. He was not a saint. He was a soldier who performed his duty with a commitment and patriotism that was, until now, untold on the silver screen. In that way, American Sniper broke the mold.

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