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Laramie Movie Scope:
American Sniper

A Texan view of the Iraq War

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 18, 2015 -- This film is a stirring tribute to Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL, solid family man and the self-proclaimed deadliest sniper in U.S. Military history. This is one of the best films of 2014, even though liberals and pacifists will hate the political message it sends. But politics aside, the craftsmanship of this film is flawless.

Kyle (played by Cole Konis as a child and Bradley Cooper “Silver Linings Playbook” as an adult) is shown beating up a bully who had attacked his younger brother on a grade school playground. Kyle's father, Wayne (Ben Reed) proclaims there are three kinds of people in the world, sheep (most people) wolves (aggressive, evil people) and sheep dogs (those rare few who protect the sheep from the wolves). Kyle is a sheep dog.

Kyle goes on to be a ranch hand and rodeo rider with his younger brother, Jeff (Keir O'Donnell of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) before joining the Navy. After passing the grueling training and tests to become a Navy SEAL, he meets his future wife in a bar, Taya (Sienna Miller of “Foxcatcher”) and the two are married just before he ships out to Iraq.

In Iraq, Kyle quickly becomes a legend among the ground forces there because of his deadly accuracy with a sniper rifle at long range (in one scene Kyle is shown killing a man at a range of over one mile). While he is shown killing a child and a woman, too, his motives are always pure, his judgment is sound. He doesn't really face any moral dilemmas. He proclaims he will meet his maker ready to defend his kills, perhaps over 200 of them (160 confirmed, 255 probable).

A military sniper once told me that a lot of people can't handle the emotional part of being a sniper. It is different than killing someone who is trying to kill you. The person you kill often doesn't even know you are there. They are sometimes dead before they hear the gunshot. In this film, Kyle does show the emotional effects of his job, especially when women and children are in his gun sights.

The real emotional toll of the war shows up mostly when he goes back stateside to be with his wife and family. As his time in the war increases, he becomes more distant from his wife and children. His stress levels are high as he senses danger everywhere, even in civilian life. He can't relax in social situations.

Taya confronts him about the toll this is taking on the family. She tells him it feels like he is not at home even when he is. She says she may leave him if he goes back to Iraq. She asks him why he is going back and he says it is to protect her and to protect America. She says that is a lie, and she's right. He really goes back to protect the soldiers he fights with.

Kyle has one mission left to do, in his own mind, and that is to eliminate the threat of a deadly sniper who has been killing American soldiers, Mustafa (Sammy Sheik of “Lone Survivor”). Mustafa, an Olympic marksman, had killed a number of Americans, including friends of Kyle. So Kyle is gunning for him, and Mustafa was gunning for Kyle too, since there is a price on Kyle's head. The deadly battle between the two snipers runs though a good part of the film.

The movie also covers Kyle's difficult adjustment back into civilian life and his work with other veterans to help them cope with physical and mental problems related to war. It doesn't cover Kyle writing his best-selling autobiography, “American Sniper,” or the libel lawsuit brought by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura because of the claim in Kyle's book that Kyle had punched Ventura and knocked him down (Ventura won the lawsuit). It does cover Kyle's death, only a month after the book was published, and the many people who came out to honor him.

There are a number of differences between the movie and the facts, among them are some important ones. Kyle did not kill Mustafa. He did make a shot from over a mile away against another Iraqi fighter at another time and place, however. Kyle did not enlist because of the 1998 bomb attacks on U.S. embassies. He enlisted because a bad arm injury ended his rodeo career and being a soldier was another option he had as a backup plan. Kyle also did not shoot the child as shown in the early part of the film. Such changes to increase drama are common in movie plots based on true stories. No big deal. The story works.

Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller both give great performances in this film. Director Clint Eastwood gives us his usual spare, clean film that is right to the point. There is nothing in this film that doesn't need to be there. After seeing a lot of “art” films this year, with camera shots that roll on long after there is any point to them, it is a pleasure to see one where the director and editors (Joel Cox and Gary Roach) know when to cut, what to leave in and what to leave out. The cinematography by Tom Stern (“The Hunger Games”) is excellent. This film rates an A.

An Iraq War post mortem

As far as the politics of the film go, it seems to frame the Iraq War largely in a positive light, a clear battle of good and evil, which it was from this film's narrow point of view, namely the alleged world view of one man, Chris Kyle. The truth of the matter can be seen in the result of the war. When you look at what Iraq has become since the war, a country shattered into pieces with a full scale civil and religious war going on between the Sunnis and the Shias, you see the folly of the war.

Christians, and other religious minorities have been killed, or driven away from their former lives and homes. The Kurds have split off to form their own country. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees as a result of this war, vast numbers of dead and injured, trillions of dollars in war costs and destruction of property, all thanks to America. This war has also spawned more generations of angry people determined to kill Americans. Some people can't seem to make that connection.

I think if you could have a “do over” of the war, most people would decide not to start this war in the first place. As it turned out, Iraq had nothing to do with attacking the United States and it posed no real threat to us. The Iranians and Kurds might differ. Iran is the war's real winner. We eliminated Iran's prime enemy, freeing it to pursue a nuclear weapons program. The Kurds might be better off now, but maybe not, since the civil war affects them, too.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)