American Sniper: Critical Review

If there is one thing that we must all succumb to in this world, it has to be pop culture. This past weekend, I became a victim of the media created pop culture in America. The media pressured me to go see American Sniper because it was going to be the patriotic thing to do amidst the evolution of the war on terrorism. With the recent Charlie Hebdo massacres and ISIS continuing their invasion of Iraq and Syria, the timing of the release of the film couldn’t have come at a better time. We Americans demand copious amounts of propaganda to remind ourselves how we are the greatest nation in the world and American Sniper fit the bill.

As a veteran of the Iraq war, I admire the film for its realistic depiction. However as a veteran of the Iraq war, I did not agree with the film’s stance regarding PTSD and its depiction that war veterans are incapable of adjusting to civilian life.

Plot Summary (Spoiler Alert)

For the sake of brevity, which the film did not enjoy, we will streamline the plot enough so as not to leave the audience snoozing. If the merits of a film can be determined by the number of people in the theatre who are left unconscious, then American Sniper only allowed two people to pass out in my near vicinity. Out of about 200 people, those aren’t bad stats.

Chris Kyle, excellently played by Bradley Cooper, is an everyday Texas man who likes to hunt and do manly things. Kyle is unsuccessful in becoming a bull rider/cowboy and decides to become a Navy SEAL because that was the manly thing to do. He does so and endures the enlistment torture, to being on the ready for a mission and then getting married and having kids. The film delves into the difficulties of a military family from his wife Taya’s perspective a bit but ultimately makes her seem whiney and needy and not 100% accurate of the wife of a service member.

Chris Kyle is well on the path to becoming a walking, talking, American stud. The events of 9/11 led to his deployment to Iraq. Kyle became known as a legend for being such a stud and his main antagonist is an enemy sniper, Mustafa. Mustafa is a bad dude who was the Syrian Olympic champion of sniping. Chris Kyle snipes Mustafa with a risky shot that led to their position being compromised. Kyle is forced to call in an airstrike that fails miserably and they were eventually saved by their QRF (quick reaction force) and a well-timed sand storm.

Kyle gets tired of playing cowboys and Indians and decides that it’s time for him to be home with his family. Kyle finds it difficult in adjusting to civilian life and finds his niche through Veterans Affairs (VA) by helping other wounded veterans who have returned from war. Kyle is then murdered by a former service member that he was asked to help by the VA in what truly was the bitch move of the century.

Critical Argument

The film superficially explores a lot of subjects including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bradley Cooper is asked to play a very dynamic role and doesn’t do a bad job of it. Historical accuracies aside because we are talking about a Hollywood film, Cooper fits the part. The problem is that the cast surrounding him does not carry their own weight as well as he does. In fact, the only reason why this film was any good is because Cooper has to carry the rest of his peers. This ultimately may have more to do with the writers of the film than the actual actors, who were not offensive but utterly forgettable.

This detracts from the film being an all-time classic because in my opinion, all-time great films have well rounded casts. In my opinion, American Sniper more closely resembles Tom Hank’s Cast Away in that a singular actor/character dominates the film and no one else comes close with regards to character depth or development. Cast Away was also a good film but aside from Hanks being nominated for best actor, it did not garner much other critical acclaim.

The film is very good. In fact, it may go on to win numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture. However, as previously pointed out I am a veteran and by all accounts, a well-adjusted veteran to civilian life. The film does not introduce the topic of PTSD heavily until near the end when Chris Kyle is feeling pressured by his wife to call it a career. It previously pointed out the seriousness of PTSD when Kyle met his brother in Iraq, who was also a service member and was so traumatized that he openly confessed to Kyle that he hates this place (Iraq) and that he wants to go home. It is at this point that Kyle resumes being the killing machine that he is.

Chris Kyle ultimately does begin to suffer from PTSD himself while in sector and it begins to affect him at his core. After leaving the service, Kyle makes a very dramatic statement when interviewed by a VA counselor near the end of the film and says that he feels guilt and regret because he cannot be back in Iraq to save more soldiers. Kyle’s autobiography actually states that he feels guilt and regret because he couldn’t kill more Iraqi’s.

The film then goes on to show Chris Kyle aiding wounded soldiers in their transition to civilian life by taking them out to a firing range and generally just hanging out with his brothers in arms before alluding to his murder by another marine veteran for unknown reasons.

Aside from Bradley Cooper’s stellar performance as Chris Kyle and his forgettable supporting cast, the other reason why I am critical of this film is because of its lack of purpose. Unfortunately, I did zero research prior to watching the film and did not know that it was going to be an autobiography. Autobiographical works of any kind, by and large, lack a central premise because it is the detail of an individual’s life. What disappointed me is that the film tried to give itself a purposeful message regarding the difficulties of service members transitioning to civilian life, but did not expound on it earlier, more often, and make a declarative statement on the film’s position regarding PTSD.

Logical and reasonable deduction

As it stands, American Sniper is a commercial success because it brought the masses out on another freezing weekend in the Northeast. It is a critical success, garnering nominations at the Academy Awards for best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper. However, one critical eye suggests that Philly’s very own Bradley Cooper is the new era of a mega movie star and without him in this film, there is no positive critical review. His supporting cast was so weak and Cooper strong enough to carry them, that one could imagine that Cooper should win the award for best supporting actor as well.

The film does beg a question from a fellow veteran. When will there be a film that introduces the prospect that not all service members return from war and allow PTSD to control their lives? Some of us are able to become society’s wizards after being their warrior.

4 thoughts on “American Sniper: Critical Review”

  1. The following words are not meant to spit on the grave of Chris Kyle, but rather address a reality that may be unpleasant for many to hear. Chris Kyle was not a hero. He did not protect America or keep it safe. He killed a lot. He also, apparently, lied a lot as well. Sometimes truth lies beyond the lens of star-spangled glasses and once you have the courage to look beyond a constructed work of fiction [1], you may realize that the facts do not align with your belief system. It may not be easy, but sometimes the truth is harsh. If we, as a people are genuinely in pursuit of truth and the justice that follows, we must distance ourselves from the warm feelings that certain narratives provide and search objectively without the blinders that provide us comfort.

    Kyle’s story takes place in Iraq, his weapon and astute aim followed along with him. The former Navy SEAL and bronco rider was responsible for 160 confirmed deaths – 255 if you include unconfirmed kills – while he was stationed in the land that was once ancient Babylon. How can it be said that a single person he killed was on behalf of protecting the American way of life or its freedoms when Iraq nor its people were ever a threat to either? Kyle was a member of an invading force. To protect someone or something, an outside threat must first be made, otherwise what is labeled as protector is actually an aggressor.
    No matter your thoughts surrounding the events on 9/11, one thing that is for certain is that Iraq was not involved. Saddam Hussein never attacked the United States, nor did it appear that he ever had plans to do so. Hussein’s regime, although not innocent of crimes in its own country, was not a threat to the United States or its citizens. And despite the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, they didn’t.

    It may be brutal to hear, but the facts dictate that none of the people that Chris Kyle killed were a threat to America, its freedoms, or its way of life.
    So who or what was the Texan protecting?
    It can be said that Kyle was protecting lives by making the argument that he was providing cover for his fellow soldiers; soldiers that should have never been in harm’s way to begin with. The cover provided to US soldiers should have come in the form of not sending them into a country that posed zero threat to the United States. If the US government actually cared about protecting its citizens, instead of providing snipers to serve as their protectors, it should have shielded them by not sending them onto a battlefield constructed of lies. Thousands of Americans who were sent back to their families with a flag draped over their maimed and lifeless bodies would still be alive today if not for the actions and needless meddling of the US government. While it is very true that Chief Kyle was not to blame for the foreign policy of his employer, he was a cog in its wheel, and more importantly he took pleasure in his duty of senseless death.
    American Sniper, the movie based on his words, makes Kyle appear as if he was conflicted by the scores who were killed by his marksmanship. Unfortunately for his legacy, his actual words tell a different story.
    “I wondered, how would I feel about killing someone? Now I know. It’s no big deal”
    Another quote from Kyle’s book describes his thoughts on the Iraqi people,
    “Savage, despicable evil. That’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy ‘savages’…. I only wish I had killed more.”
    The sniper also described his chosen profession of killing by saying,
    “You do it until there’s no one left to kill. That’s what war is. I loved what I did… I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun.”
    Kyle also relays his lack of regret by saying,
    “There’s another question people ask a lot: Did it bother you killing so many people in Iraq? I tell them ‘No.’ And I mean it.”
    As far as the moral ambiguity that he dealt with, Kyle said
    “I have a strong sense of justice. It’s pretty much black-and-white. I don’t see too much gray.”
    The last passage from American Sniper that I will list truly demonstrates Kyle’s lack of heroism:
    “A teenager, I’d guess about fifteen, sixteen, appeared on the street and squared up with an AK-47 to fire at them. I dropped him. A minute or two later, an Iraqi woman came running up, saw him on the ground, and tore off her clothes. She was obviously his mother. I’d see the families of the insurgents display their grief, tear off clothes, even rub the blood on themselves. If you loved them, I thought, you should have kept them away from the war. You should have kept them from joining the insurgency.”
    The insurgency that the sniper is referring to is the local Iraqi insurgency that would have never existed if the United States hadn’t invaded Iraq to begin with. These “insurgents” weren’t making their way overseas to hurt Kyle’s family, so where does his malice towards the child he killed in cold blood come from?

    Maybe you’ll choose not to trust that Kyle really believed the words he wrote in his own book, I couldn’t blame you, after all Kyle was caught in multiple lies while he was still alive.
    Regardless of whether you approve of Jesse Ventura famously pursuing his lawsuit against Kyle after his death, Ventura did prove in court that Kyle lied about punching him at a Navy SEAL reunion in 2006. The former governor of Minnesota was awarded 1.8 million dollars for Kyle’s tall tale despite being told he would never prove in a court of law that the ghost of an American hero had lied. He did. HarperCollins, the publisher of American Sniper also had to remove the story from future printings of the book.

    Another lie that Kyle was caught in was a story he told to D Magazine [2] regarding a supposed run in with two car jackers in 2009. The incident supposedly took place at a gas station somewhere along Highway 67 just south of Dallas, Tx. Kyle claimed that he shot the two men each twice in the chest, killing them both. He never claimed that either man fired a shot at him. The former military man said that he waited on local law enforcement to arrive and once on the scene he gave them a phone number that directed the officers to the Department of Defense. The person on the other end vouched for him and he was sent on his way, according to Kyle. The problem with this story [3] is that despite various publications [4] having attempted to verify Kyle’s account multiple times, there is still not a single shred of evidence [5] that it ever happened.

    The real life American Sniper also told a tale [6] about him and a comrade being ordered to New Orleans in the direct aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The story goes that the two were stationed atop the Super-dome. Kyle then proceeded to pick off and kill 30 looters dead in the streets from atop the home of the New Orleans Saints. There is absolutely no evidence to corroborate this narrative either.

    Either Chris Kyle was a cold-blooded killer who took it upon himself to be judge, jury, and executioner while killing Americans dead in its streets or he was a liar. Whichever story you choose to believe, one thing is for certain, the real American Sniper was no hero.
    Hollywood is a business, and as with the goal of any business, their objective is to generate profit. The movie industry does so through visual story telling. A studio produces films to make you feel a certain way which in turn allows the studios to recoup their expenses and ideally generate a profit. The story of Chris Kyle is no different.

    There is nothing wrong with enjoying a film, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that the heroic Chris Kyle portrayed on the silver screen is the same as the real life Chris Kyle. One of them was payed to sway your emotions while the real one was paid to kill those that never ever threatened the rights which allow these type of films to be made in the first place.

    1)http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/american-sniper/
    2) http://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2013/april/the-legend-of-chris-kyle-01?single=1
    3) http://blogs.star-telegram.com/crime_time/2013/02/did-slain-american-sniper-fatally-shoot-two-armed-robbers-in-2009.html
    4) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/30/the-complicated-but-unveriable-legacy-of-chris-kyle-the-deadliest-sniper-in-american-history/
    5) http://mpmacting.com/blog/2014/7/19/truth-justice-and-the-curious-case-of-chris-kyle
    6) http://www.nola.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2015/01/the_american_snipers_preposter.html

    1. SM Gibson,

      I apologize for the delay in my response. That said, thank you for reading the review and thank you again for being an active reader and engaging in the discussion. Although I do appreciate all comments, I feel that your animosity towards the inaccuracies of the film and of Chris Kyle go beyond the scope of what my film review was attempting to explore. Although there are many inaccuracies of the film in a historical context, by and large, it is one of the most accurate depictions of war in any era. I say this as a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and also of Operation New Dawn. My experience with war differs greatly from Chris Kyle’s but the time, place, and setting is very accurate.

      I don’t wish to engage you in a trolling session because if there is one thing you may have missed, I am not tied to popular culture at the hip. I watched the film not knowing who the fuck Chris Kyle was. After watching the film, I could care less who he was because after researching some of his history, it is clear to me that he is just one of many other former service members who wish to call attention to their service. Even worse, he tried to monetize his service (e.g., his book, media interviews, the film, etc.).

      A word about confirmed kills. There is no such thing in the military at any level unless we are speaking of a high value target. A high value target would be Osama Bin Laden and his ilk. And even then, the military will never document an individual credit for the kill but rather credit the organization that was involved in the operation. An example of this would again be with the killing and capture of Osama Bin Laden, with the Pentagon assigning credit for the ground operation to SEAL Team 6. None of the service members assigned would ever have a statistic as inane as a confirmed kill on their enlisted record brief (ERB) or officer record brief (ORB). The military studies psychology a lot and if they were ever to give direct and documented credit of a kill to any individual, it would have negative mental health consequences on many people because they would carry a label as a killer. Again this is why credit for the Osama Bin Laden operation was given credit to the team, and not the individual. And naturally another douche bag couldn’t resist the temptation to call attention to their service and to monetize it or capitalize on fame and adulation.

      SM Gibson, thank you for your reply and for being a part of the discussion. How do you feel about the film’s portrayal of PTSD?

  2. Politics aside, this movie was good. Im not very familiar with the Kyle’s story, but the way the movie was presented it seems like he was primarily driven to provide cover for his team. When reviewing a movie you should hold criticism within the perimeters of the film’s narrative. To do do otherwise is to criticize something other than the film.

    For example : Aladdin was a great movie, but you know in those areas of the world women have very little rights. Therefore Jasmine would never have been able to mouth off like she did.

    or

    Shrek was a good movie but gigantism is a serious disease.

    To take this approach boarders on incoherence.

  3. One American sniper called Iraqi natives “savages,” compared them to American welfare recipients [1], and bragged about looting their homes [2] after killing them. Another American sniper became so disgusted by what he had done that he started the first-ever antiwar blog, and is actively encouraging his fellow soldiers to use their First Amendment rights to speak out against what he calls an “illegal occupation” in Iraq. Guess which one had a blockbuster movie made about him, and which one got ignored?

    Between February 2004 and February 2005, Garett Reppenhagen [3] was a sniper in Iraq’s Diyala province, serving as a cavalry scout with the U.S. Army. It was his job to conceal himself near roadsides and kill anyone he saw planting IEDs. He was also ordered to wait in fields and target Iraqi insurgents pulling up in pickup trucks to launch mortars on American bases. While Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who killed over 160 people during his time in Iraq, relished in pulling the trigger and wrote “I only wish I had killed more” [4] in his memoir, Reppenhagen became increasingly more remorseful after each kill.
    “Every time I pulled the trigger, I had to really convince myself that I was saving a buddy of mine. And it got increasingly difficult,” Reppenhagen told an audience [5] at Colorado College in May of 2011.

    Reppenhagen came from a military family – his father was a Vietnam veteran, and his grandfather served in World War II. He enlisted in 2001 and was stationed in Vilseck, Germany, with the 2-63 Armored Battalion, 1st Infantry Division. Between 2002 and 2003, his division was stationed in Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission. After completing international interdiction training at the NATO Special Forces School in Steton, Germany, he was deployed to Iraq in 2004. During that time, Reppenhagen learned that most of the men in his division were serving simply because a recruiter had bullied them into joining to get out of a bad economic situation. One of his fellow soldiers from Los Angeles had joined the military to get away from the gangs in his neighborhood. Another man from Ohio joined because the factory in his rust belt town had shut down and jobs were scarce.

    “It was just 2 months of basic training for a cavalry scout, and out we come,” Reppenhagen said. “They’re just like you. They were given a bad haircut and an M-16 in their hands and they’re scared shitless.”
    As Zaid Jilani recently wrote, the film “American Sniper” uses clever editing to suggest that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11: In one scene, Chris Kyle is watching the 9/11 attacks unfold on TV. In the next scene, Kyle is seen deploying to Iraq. But unlike Kyle, Reppenhagen became aware that he and his division were risking their lives in Iraq for fabricated causes, and actively started speaking out against the war.
    “It was the conduct of the war that really started turning me, and the fraudulent causes that sent me there that really put me over the edge,” Reppenhagen said. “There were no ties to 9/11, no weapons of mass destruction.”

    Reppenhagen later started the first-ever antiwar blog, which was called “Fight to Survive.” [6] It became a place where he and his fellow soldiers could share combat experiences with the world that would shape their view of the war and make the case for their outspoken opposition.

    In one blog entry from November 13, 2006, a soldier who identifies only as “Hellblazer” wrote a detailed post about a skirmish that erupted in the city of Ba’Quba in 2004. After an hour of receiving gunfire from all sides and getting orders to “shoot anything the [sic] moved,” Hellblazer noticed an insurgent with an AK-47 run out from a corner across a nearby street. Despite Hellblazer’s chasing him with machinegun fire, the Iraqi made it to another corner and out of sight. But one of the targets in the gun’s wake was a trailer that had been riddled with Hellblazer’s bullets.
    “Now falling out from behind this trailer was the body of a teenage boy. The void in his chest replaced what was once his heart and his body convulsed slightly as his nerve endings fired their last. His body lay there in the filthy dirty street, muddy water surrounding him from the drainage of the nearby houses … Nausea filled my stomach and a cold feeling overtook my flesh. How long had he been behind that trailer? Had he been there through the whole mess? Not to [sic] long afterwards, an older man emerged from around a corner, immediately collapsing nest [sic] to the young man’s body.”
    – Excerpt from The Day That Haunts Me, by “Hellblazer” [7]

    During his 2011 lecture at Colorado College, Reppenhagen noted that 18 veterans commit suicide every day (now 22 veteran suicides per day [8]), and that more veterans have committed suicide after returning from combat than have been killed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined [9]. He theorizes that atrocities like the Haditha massacre [10] of 2005 and the slaughter of Iraqis at a canal in 2007 [11] are perpetrated by veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury re-deploying again and again, making them less stable in battle.

    Reppenhagen’s theory was sadly and ironically proved by the death of famed “American Sniper” Chris Kyle. It wasn’t an insurgent in a foreign battlefield who ended Kyle’s life in February of 2013, but a traumatized veteran named Eddie Ray Routh, at a shooting range in Texas. In the June 2013 issue of The New Yorker, Routh was profiled [12] as a troubled young man who succumbed to his inner demons after a tour of duty. His father recalled one telephone call from Iraq in which Routh hinted that he had killed a child.
    “More veterans are killing themselves than are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Reppenhagen said in 2011. “You think they’re coming home because they’re proud of what they did? 3rd Brigade just came back to Fort Carson two weeks ago, and six of them killed themselves already.”
    After his honorable discharge in 2005, Reppenhagen became the first active duty member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) [13]. Since then, IVAW has simultaneously become a vast antiwar movement and a support community for returning veterans who are proud of serving their country, but want to express their opposition to the acts carried out around the world in their name.
    “There are ways to resist this war within army regulations. You still obtain your rights as a citizen,” Reppenhagen said at a lecture in March of 2008 [14]. “You’re able to use those rights, and you should, since you’re the one sacrificing to protect those rights. It’ll be a shame if the actual use of your First Amendment right becomes unpatriotic.”
    Today, IVAW is in 48 states, Washington D.C., Canada, and military bases around the world, including Iraq. Its members advocate for full funding of the office of Veterans Affairs, full quality healthcare (including mental healthcare) and full benefits for veterans when they return from duty. While IVAW reaches out to returning veterans, Reppenhagen is quick to separate their methods of engagement from military recruiters.
    “We’re not gonna come out and recruit soldiers and veterans. We’re not going to try to trick you into joining us. But we will ask you,” Reppenhagen said.
    “There’s a lot of pride in joining our army, our corps,” he continued. “We can fight for a cause that will change America and the world for the better and stop these occupations.”

    1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2015/01/21/the-mediocrity-of-american-sniper/
    2)http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/06/real-american-sniper-hate-filled-killer-why-patriots-calling-hero-chris-kyle
    3) http://www.ivaw.org/garett-reppenhagen
    4) http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/28256-chris-kyle-qi-only-wish-i-had-killed-moreq
    5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF6uPSXV7oU
    6) http://ftssoldier.blogspot.com
    7) http://ftssoldier.blogspot.com/2006/11/day-that-haunts-me.html
    8)http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/01/16811249-22-veterans-commit-suicide-each-day-va-report?lite
    9)http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/us/suicides-eclipse-war-deaths-for-us-troops.html
    10)http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/31/the-haditha-massacre/
    11) http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2008/08/iraq-a29.html
    12) http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/03/in-the-crosshairs
    13) http://www.ivaw.org/about
    14) http://www.ivaw.org/blog/future-gi-resistance/garet-reppenhagen

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