American Sniper Bradley Cooper“American Sniper” Director Clint Eastwood was given a difficult task: he had to somehow squeeze Chris Kyle’s incredible life story into 132 minutes. What could have turned into an incredibly bloated mess had he tried to do too much was successfully streamlined in a way that stayed true to the autobiography while also teasing out the most important themes. Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller both give strong performances, and audiences across the U.S. have rewarded them for all the hard work: “American Sniper” made $105 million in its first four days of wide-release.

Clint Eastwood seemed to have two goals with “American Sniper”:

  1. Show the audience what makes guys like Chris Kyle tick.
  2. Demonstrate the destructive power of combat on the war fighter’s psyche, as well as the family unit.

A glimpse of what Mr. Eastwood was able to transfer from the page to the screen comes towards the end of Chris Kyle’s autobiography, where he writes:

“My regrets are about the people I couldn’t save — Marines, soldiers, my buddies. I still feel their loss. I still ache for my failure to protect them.

I’m not naive and I’m beyond romanticizing war and what I had to do there. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. Losing my buddies. Having a kid die on me.

I’m sure some of the things I went through pale in comparison to what some of the guys went through in World War II and other conflicts. On top of all the shit they went through in Vietnam, they had to come home to a country that spat on them.

When people ask me how the war changed me, I tell them that the biggest thing has to do with my perspective.

You know all those everyday things that stress you here? I don’t give a shit about them. There are bigger and worse things that could happen than to have this timely little problem wreck your life, or even your day. I’ve seen them. More: I’ve lived them,” (Chris Kyle, American Sniper. Harper Collins, 2012. Page 379.)

As I mentioned in my review of the book when it came out in 2012, Chris Kyle said that a guardian angel must have been looking over him on the battlefield on multiple occasions, yet he never really stopped to dwell on just how much of a guardian angel he was to his brothers-in-arms. The pressure he put upon himself to save everyone under his watch — an impossible task —would break any man. Yes, even Navy SEALs have a breaking point.

Families have breaking points, too. Again, Eastwood brings it home in a scene that takes place just before Chris Kyle’s fourth tour in Iraq:

Taya: Do you want to die? Is that what it is?

Chris: No.

Taya: Then just tell me. Tell me why you do it. I want to understand.

Chris: Baby, I do it for you. You know that I do it to protect you.

Taya: No you don’t.

Chris: Yes, I do.

Taya: I’m here. Your family is here. Your children have no father. […] You don’t know when to quit. You did your part. You sacrificed enough. You let somebody else go!

Chris: Let somebody else go?

Taya: Yeah.

Chris: Well, I couldn’t live with myself.

Taya: Well, you find a way. You have to. Okay? I need you — to be human again. I need you here. I need … you here. If you leave again, I don’t think we’ll be here when you get back.

Even to those who are closest to these very special men, it often seems like they have a death wish. But that is not the case. Even those who are supposed to understand what motivates a war fighter, can not. The question becomes: How do you dedicate your life to a man who has dedicated his own to ideas that are bigger than all of us?

At one point during “American Sniper,” Chris laments how obsessed civilians are with their cell phones, trips to the mall, and a variety of other seemingly-trivial things when he should be “over there.” But that’s the conundrum: Just as the principles a SEAL is willing to fight and die for make life worth living, it is also those little moments — a conversation on a lazy Sunday afternoon with your wife, or a quiet night alone with that very same woman — that make it special.

“American Sniper” is about one man’s attempt to successfully balance the desire to selflessly serve one’s country while also living up to the commitment to love and cherish his spouse with all his might.

Clint Eastwood may be an old man, but his latest movie shows that he can still direct better than most people who are half his age. If you get a chance, then you should check out “American Sniper” while it’s in theaters. It is one of the rare war movies within the past decade that is actually worth the price of admission.

Related: ‘American Sniper’ success prompts Michael Moore to take pot shots at deceased hero Chris Kyle

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

35 comments

    1. One would have to be drinking some powerful partisan Kool-Aid to say that “American Sniper” is a bad movie. I can understand someone saying, “Oh, I don’t particularly care for war movies,” or “It doesn’t deserve the Oscar for Best Picture,” but to just say that it’s a bad movie is laughable.

    2. “One would have to be drinking some powerful partisan Kool-Aid to say that “American Sniper” is a bad movie.”

      One would have to define what they meant when they said ‘bad’, at least. I haven’t seen it, so I couldn’t say one way or another whether its a good or a bad movie. I don’t have a particular desire to see it, though I may when it comes around to being on Netflix.

      Unrelated: The Imitation Game is a very good movie, and also (technically) a war movie.

    3. One would have to define what they meant when they said ‘bad’, at least. I haven’t seen it, so I couldn’t say one way or another whether its a good or a bad movie. […] Unrelated: The Imitation Game is a very good movie, and also (technically) a war movie.

      Yes, I heard it was a good movie — and I don’t need you define “good” to know what you mean.

    4. All I meant is that someone could say it’s a bad movie and mean “it was poorly made” or “the acting wasn’t good” or “I disagree with the theme/message” or “the animatronic baby was a bit distracting” or all of the above. ‘Bad’ is rather vague.

    5. And yet you used “good” to describe Imitation Game without defining what good was, “at least.”

      Small quibbles with technical details aside, there is no way someone can say “American Sniper” was a “bad” movie without being a partisan hack. Saying “I don’t like the theme” says nothing about whether the movie was good or bad — it just says the person didn’t like the theme. By pretty much every metric people use to judge movies, “American Sniper” delivers. It’s rather telling that some people (again, mostly partisan hacks) are talking about a fake baby that was on the screen for all of about ten seconds. A movie doesn’t receive six Oscar nominations — including Best Picture — if it is a “bad” product.

    6. “A movie doesn’t receive six Oscar nominations — including Best Picture — if it is a “bad” product.”

      I would hesitate to equate Oscar nominations with quality.

      And again, I haven’t seen the film. I have seen the clip of the baby and laughed. But I also think Bradley Cooper is a great actor and nothing in any clips has made me change that opinion. So *shrug*.

      Imitation Game is finely directed, acted, and I agree with all the themes. So: good.

    7. I would hesitate to equate Oscar nominations with quality.

      While no system is perfect — and good movies do often get left out — the Oscars has a solid track record of showcasing each year’s best movies. When a movie along the lines of “Freddy Got Fingered” is nominated for Best Picture, then the Oscars will have to be reevaluated.

      But again, just because you like or dislike a movie’s theme, that says zero about whether or not it was a good movie. It only means that you liked or disliked a theme. There are plenty of movies that I’ve watched over the years that rub me the wrong way because of the messages embedded in the script, but I’m still able to tip my hat to the writers and directors when the product is obviously good.

      If I were a partisan hack, then I would say Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” is a bad movie. Since I’m not, I can easily say that it is most-certainly “good.”

  1. Hey Doug, just saw the movie, and I’ve got to say: is there a law preventing me from tracking people down and slapping them silly until their soul starts functioning with the matter of their brain properly?

    I ask because, who could look at the tongue and cheek propaganda film in Inglorious Bastards and then watch American Sniper… and then think that both movies are alike in anything other than the fact that they are about a soldier in a war that uses guns? Because really, the people saying such BS are on the same intellectually bankrupt level as those who said that Fallout 3 was The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion with guns (and to those who said that Jurassic Park was Jaws with Dinosaurs).

    1. Hell, I cried like a little girl as that footage of his wake precession started playing, and I haven’t done that in ages. How the hell does Seth Rogan and others get away with such blatant, false equivalencies.

    2. Who could look at the tongue and cheek propaganda film in Inglorious Bastards and then watch American Sniper…and then think that both movies are alike in anything other than the fact that they are about a soldier in a war that uses guns?

      That was my point, exactly. So because a sniper in a propaganda flick winces and Chris Kyle does the same, then we should somehow start inferring that maybe we’re a little too much like the Nazis than we’d like to believe? These people are sick.

      Probably the closest real-life event that could match Tarantino’s faux Nazi-propaganda is the story of Sergeant York, which was actually turned into a U.S. propaganda film. If you’re not familiar with his story, then you should look it up. Good stuff. The movie is probably worth seeing to, if for no other reason than for its historical cinematic significance.

      It really just bothers me that anything that doesn’t essentially cast a big dark shadow over a modern U.S. war is somehow seen to be encouraging war. How the hell is that the case? In “American Sniper” it was obvious that Kyle’s brother was disillusioned with the war, Kyle’s friend died — and he blamed himself for it — and he was murdered in the end by a fellow veteran. How is that a glorification of war?

      I also take issue with people who are saying he’s a jerk for calling the people he killed “savages.” The people he killed were in the act of trying to kill Marines — or him. He was shooting at the very same people who are now chopping off heads in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. pulled out in 2011, so using Michael Moore logic the killing and the beheading and the car bombs should have stopped. But they didn’t, because al Qaeda, the Islamic State group, and a whole host of other Islamic radicals want to recreate the Ottoman Empire.

      As long as we have people who refuse to acknowledge that the Islamic terrorist groups are Islamic, then we will continue to adopt strange strategies that do not achieve our long-term foreign policy objectives. How can you address a problem if you can’t even accurately define the problem? It doesn’t work.

  2. “and he was murdered in the end by a fellow veteran. How is that a glorification of war?”

    Was it murder or killed? I.E. did the guy intentionally shoot Kyle or accidentally?

    1. You can double check me, but I believe the guy made a break for it in his truck after the fact, but he didn’t get very far. I think he just snapped. It wasn’t an accident. I don’t know when the trial will be held.

    1. I think if you’re a NAVY Seal, depending on where you are or what exactly you’re doing, that can be arranged. I believe he talks about the phone calls with his wife a few times in the book. I haven’t read it in awhile and I’m sure I wouldn’t highlight those passages, but I’m 98 percent sure it’s talked about on a couple of occasions.

  3. Hey Doug, what do you think about this in regards to Eastwood and the guy playing Kyle said about the movie being a non-political ‘character study?’ and just about works in general?

    “It doesn’t matter, in the end, what the creator of the book or film or play wants. It matters what message the person watching or reading gets out of it. Frankly, the best stories are those where everyone, no matter what political side they are on, can get something out of it.”

    1. I think the people who want to see “American Sniper” as a “pro” war film are going to see a “pro” war film. Chris Kyle’s book isn’t “pro” war either — it’s just his story in the best way he knows how to tell it. Liberals just don’t like that he’s a man who is able to look at a member of al Qaeda or the kind of people who join the Islamic State group, and say, “Yep. That’s evil.”

      I’ve seen reviews that said he wanted to “kill brown people.” Huh? There are a lot of “brown” airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines out there. I’m sure that Chris Kyle saved a lot of Marines and probably quite a few Army Rangers who were “brown.” Only a liberal can bring race into this…

      I think Eastwood, although a conservative guy, did try to create a movie that anyone could draw lessons from. Heck, that’s why I liked “Lone Survivor.” Marcus Luttrell is a conservative guy, but I don’t know how anyone can say his story is “pro” war. Again, only a liberal can turn it into that because he dared to say something nice about George W. Bush. The veteran who admits he’s had hallucinations that his dead brothers-in-arms are calling his name…haunting him…is not writing a “pro” war book. But, yet, that never stopped a liberal from trying to make such a case, in part because they usually don’t even read the books they’re criticizing.

  4. So, would you say that there are ways of objectively pointing out what a book is indeed about? Because I agree, and would argue that anyone who says that a great work is one where everyone can get what they want out of it is essentially saying that everything is a great work with drugs and drink.

  5. The left is really freaking out about the movie:

    http://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2015/01/23/american-sniper-witness-intolerance-burns-inside-the-left-like-a-poison/

    They hate it because it’s completely unlike the idiotic anti-war movies they produced from the 2000s like “Stop Loss,” “Redacted,” “In the Valley of Elah” and “The Green Zone.” “American Sniper” is actually doing well in the box office, whereas all those movies were box office disasters.

    Of all the Oscar contenders, this will be the one I’ll eventually see. I have no desire to see the others.

    1. One of my favorite Twitter followers shared a piece from Vulture with me. I think she knew that I might very well write a blog post on this:

      Superhero stories are, at their core, larger-than-life allegories about the use of power: who deserves it, what one should do with it, and the consequences of its use. Kyle was, in his own way, a superhero — someone who had abilities with a gun that went far beyond the abilities of anyone else in American military history. American Sniper follows him as he gains and wields it. By painting the Punisher’s skull on himself, the real life and fictional Chris Kyle chose a kind of superhero costume, one that channels a very specific, black-and-white ethos about how to use deadly power. For better or worse, Frank Castle would be proud.

  6. Hey Douglas, I heard that Chris Kyle claimed to kill 30 people in New Orleans and that the defense couldn’t agree on what state he punched Jesse Ventura in and that, though Ventura wasn’t mentioned in the book, he was mentioned in later interviews Chris Kyle gave.

    1. Why do you keep saying, “Hey Douglas”? Regardless, that’s nice that you “heard” lots of things — none of which takes away from Chris Kyle’s honorable service to the country, his official kills in Iraq, or his very real service to veterans who suffer with PTSD.

    2. Really? It’s “very important” if he wasn’t completely honest about how his drunken altercation with Jesse “The Body” Ventura went down? Okay. You go with that, vunderguy. I’ll take Marcus Lutrell’s and Rorke Denver’s opinion of Chris Kyle over yours. I think they can speak on his overall character just fine.

      I don’t even know where the other story originated from. Regardless, Chris Kyle is dead and can’t defend himself. It would have been nice if all the jealous guys out there whining about the “Scruff Face” subchapter would have hounded him on it before he died. But I guess that gives them something to pound their chest about and say, “See! See! I’m honorable and Chris Kyle isn’t because I’ve never said anything that was questionable.”

    3. Since it appears to be a matter of time before you say you “heard” that Chris Kyle was racist, I figured I’d share a story by an Iraqi interpreter who thinks such charges are ridiculous.

      “When we had a sniper mission, he would watch the targets. Then, sometimes I would go take care of something and he was never afraid that I was returning with my M4 and grenades. And not just Kyle, all the SEALs I worked with.

      Kyle said I trust Johnny Walker with my life. When I came to America, I got invited to Chris’s book signing in La Jolla.

      When Chris saw me at the event he left everyone and just came up to me and hugged me. Because he hadn’t seen me since 2007 and thought I could have died and had no idea where I was. After he signed the book, he was going to speak. Ten seconds into his speech, he said I am not an American hero. Johnny Walker is the American hero and then he made me stand up.

      Then, he said that I saved more SEALs’ lives than him. Pointing at me, and I am an Iraqi Muslim. So how is this racist?

      Sometimes I would forget to bring an MRE to a sniper mission. Chris would share his MRE and he would talk about family. If he was racist towards Muslims why would he share intimate details of his life with a Muslim? I don’t see that in any way as racist. I think the ones calling Chris Kyle racist are racists.

      Maybe he was paid to say that. We’ll have to ask Jesse Ventura since he’s into conspiracy theories.

  7. “Since it appears to be a matter of time before you say you “heard” that Chris Kyle was racist…”

    Doug… frankly… go to the deepest pit of hell*. I mean that in the nicest way possible considering the fact that you just tried to disqualify my questioning by suggesting that I would try to disqualify Chris Kyle as a racist, especially considering what I’ve said about the idiocy of folks who think that the film adaptation is anything like that faux Nazi propaganda from Tarantino’s WW II revenge flick.

    And frankly, his military service, as impressive as it is and as many lives as he saved… has nothing to do about whether or not he was righteous man back stateside after his tour in certain instances like the one with Jesse Ventura.

    Now, I’m the first to say that I hate Jesse Ventura with a passion reserved for Alex Jones and most libertarians I’ve ever encountered, especially the atheistic and conspiracy theory ones, but darn it, I’m getting the distinct impression that the triumph of Chris Kyle at the box office is more a symbolic double middle finger to the enemy in hollywood than rooted in the heroic character of the man, and damn it if his estate losing to a double chinned loser like Ventura, especially when close allies of his couldn’t get the basic facts straight doesn’t make me sniff that Chris may not have been quite the man of character, flawed, but of character, the movie made him out to be and that, in the future, the enemy will use this as ammunition against us.

    And dammit, I want the real Chris Kyle and the one we saw in the movie to be one and the same because dammit if I don’t want to think that people in real life can have those kinds of cajones as the biggest possible proof against the enemy’s worldview.

    I know it sounds like I’m trying to assert a truth claim about Kyle and that, if that were true, I’d be the one shouldering the burden of proof, but the thing is, I’m not. I’m quite open to the possibility that Chris was as genuine as his movie portrayal and I admit I am biased towards thinking that to be true.

    I just want accurate information that would support the claim that Chris was through and through a good guy and that I can use against folks who’d say otherwise.

    Editor’s note*: Sentence removed that included personal information. I’ve said this before in the comments section: I’ve had to deal with stalkish characters since I started this blog. I don’t put that kind of information up here since it got creepy, and when I do I’m intentionally vague. Don’t do it again.

    1. Vunderguy, please just go away from this thread. You’re embarrassing yourself. Wow. Chris Kyle has an official military record that speaks for itself. His work with veterans suffering from PTSD is well known — and it’s what got him killed. He’s had plenty of Navy SEALs and special operations guys who knew him defend his character. But yet, you continue to latch on to some stupid drunken altercation with a 9/11 conspiracy theorist that took place in a bar years ago — that wound up as a blink-and-you-missed-it one-page entry in his book.

      Here’s an idea: Why don’t you read his book. You’ll see that Chris Kyle didn’t try to portray himself as some sort squeaky clean guy. He never tried to pretend he was Mitt Romney. If you have a beef with the movie, take it up with Clint Eastwood. Don’t take it up with a dead man.

      Also, I don’t care if you’re joking: I don’t tell you to “go to hell” when I disagree with you — so don’t do it to me or anyone else who posts here. If you do it again, then you’re banned. I can’t believe you’ve been randomly commenting here for this long and you still don’t get it…

  8. “If you have a beef with the movie, take it up with Clint Eastwood.”

    Doug, what leaps in logic did you take to somehow conclude that my problem was with the movie?

    1. Yes, vunderguy, it’s a real “leap in logic” to say that you have a beef with the movie when you specifically said Clint Eastwood portrayed Chris “out of character” and that it’s feeding into “close allies that can’t get the basic facts right.”

      I’m getting the distinct impression that the triumph of Chris Kyle at the box office is more a symbolic double middle finger to the enemy in hollywood than rooted in the heroic character of the man […] especially when close allies of his couldn’t get the basic facts straight doesn’t make me sniff that Chris may not have been quite the man of character, flawed, but of character, the movie made him out to be…

      Chris Kyle was popular within military communities well before guys like you knew a single thing about him. Americans saw this movie in droves and entire week before the pundits and partisan hacks like Michael Moore started spouting off. Now that it’s turned into a political football, guys like you want to come on my blog out of the blue with “Hey, Doug, I hear…” comments and then drop down some annoying talking point being used by the left to try and tear a dead man’s character down.

      Again, I’ll point to a military source who was talking about Chris well before Michael Moore, Seth Rogen and MSNBC were taking pot shots at him:

      Mark Lee Greenblatt, author of Valor: Unsung Heroes of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Homefront says in his new piece for Military.com:

      Chris is one of the nine heroes profiled in my book Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, which tells true stories of heroism by American troops. I interviewed Chris back when he was still relatively unknown. Later, when he wrote his own book, Chris told me that he intentionally omitted these episodes from his memoir because he didn’t want to leave me hanging. That alone says a lot about Chris’s character.

      Read the whole article and then maybe you’ll realize why I responded as I did when you wanted to talk about claims that “no one in Kyle’s unit like him.” Can you see why that would be annoying? You don’t have a clue, but you want me to provide you with intellectual ammunition so you can take back to whatever other website you’re debating liberals on. It’s not because you’re trying to have a conversation with me — it’s because you’re primarily using me to provide you with the information you’re too lazy or perhaps too busy to obtain by reading books like American Sniper or Unsung Heroes. And then you have the nerve to tell me to “go to hell” when I get fed up with your inanely worded questions.

      Once more from Lee Greenblatt:

      His rifle was empty, and he had no more magazines. There was only one thing to do: sling his rifle on his back, grab the wounded man with both hands, and “haul ass.” As he dragged the man, the insurgents chased them and “got off a few rounds.” Chris felt bullets flying past and was sure he was going to get hit.

      “I could see shrapnel coming off the wall,” he told me. “Oh, yeah, I thought I was going to die.” He was nearing the breaking point. “I was suckin’ wind. My legs were burnin’. I thought I was going to puke. I felt like quitting,” he admitted. “I felt like stopping and saying, ‘F__ it. You win. You got me.'”

      But he did not stop. “The inner drive just won’t let you give up,” he told me. Somehow, some way, he just kept running, kept lugging the injured man, kept dodging bullets.

      Now, the clustered Marines began firing back at the guerillas. For a few nerve-racking seconds, Chris was literally caught in a cross fire. Eventually, the Marines’ firepower forced the insurgents back to their compound.

      Chris pulled the injured man the rest of the way. He survived.

      Chris Kyle literally saved his life.

      That is why Chris Kyle is a hero. That is why people go to see “American Sniper.” That is why it was a success before liberal websites started whining and why it will continue to be a success. It has nothing to do with the fact that a drunken bar altercation between Chris and Jesse “The Body” Ventura and the legal battle that took place after Chris died never made it into Eastwood’s war film. For you to chalk up the success of the film to millions of individuals who just want to stick it to Hollywood is downright insulting to anyone who read years ago about how Chris handled himself on the battlefield and in civilian life helping veterans who struggle with PTSD.

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