“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”:
- Show the audience what makes guys like Chris Kyle tick.
- 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?
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?
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