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Laramie Movie Scope:
American Sniper

Hagiography of a legendary marksman in Iraq

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2014, English and Arabic) Like a western (good guys versus evil savages) set in Iraq during the long war of the US and its coalition partners against Arab insurgents, Clint Eastwood has directed a riveting military-action movie based on the memoir by Chris Kyle with ghostwriters Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, scripted into a screenplay by Jason Hall. The film, in effect a hagiography of the legendary Chris Kyle, "the deadliest sniper in US history," has become controversial because - History vs Hollywood link - some of the events on the screen as well as in the book have been shown by various critics to have misrepresented or departed from actual events.

In the opening scene, an American convoy of marines has arrived in an Iraqi village with heavily-armed military personnel systematically busting in doors of residences, searching for insurgents, while an overwatch sniper, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), looks for enemy targets. Emerging from a building's doorway, a woman wearing a black chador, accompanied by a young boy, appears to be carrying (partly concealed) an RKG-3 (anti-tank grenade).

As Chris's finger draws on the trigger, a rifle fires in a flashback of him as a child with his dad Wayne (Ben Reed), who reprimands the boy for dropping his gun before praising his gift of accurate aim, killing his first deer. At the dinner table, Wayne sternly lectures Chris, who'd been in a fistfight defending his younger brother Jeff, about people who are aggressive wolves and passive sheep, emphasizing that he expects his boys to be neither but rather sheepdogs who protect the flock from the wolves: "We protect our own.... You know who you are, your purpose."

On the rodeo circuit, Chris and Jeff (Keir O'Donnell), Texas ranch hands riding broncos and steers, witness TV-news coverage of the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. In the next scene Chris, age 30, enlists in the Navy to become a member of the SEALs (special operations force); throughout the arduous training he holds to his vow: "I don't quit."

In a bar, Chris - cautioned by his training to be wary about ego, booze, and women - makes acquaintance with Taya (Sienna Miller), who's wary of arrogant, self-centered SEALs, admitting she has "a nose for picking the wrong man." On the firing range, Chris, having difficulty hitting the target, demonstrates his deadly aim with a rattlesnake: "I'm better when it's breathing."

The terrorist attack on 9/11 eventually calls for the SEALs to deploy to Iraq. Initially afraid that their relationship won't work, Taya eventually accepts Chris's marriage proposal and vow with assurance: "You got nothing to be afraid of."

Back to the opening scene with Chris, tasked with protecting the marines below at all costs while getting a bead on the woman with what appears to be an RKG-3 as the marine assigned to him reminds Kyle: "They'll fry you if you're wrong." Having "popped his cherry," Chris remarks on what he's just witnessed: "Evil like I've never seen before." A series of seven kills follow, including someone driving a car with a bomb in hand and someone planting an IED.

With Taya pregnant and Jeff as a marine deploying to Iraq, Chris is in Ramadi, rolling with the marines, focused on finding and killing or capturing a high-priority target Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a lieutenant of al-Qaeda in Iraq, known as the "butcher of Fallujah" (Mido Hamada). Just as Taya calls Chris to announce the birth of their baby boy, a firefight erupts - all she can hear after he drops the phone is the noise of gunfire.

Back home to decompress (blood pressure at 170/110) in time to witness the birth of their daughter, Chris remains reticent about what he's seen and done. "You have to make it back to us," Taya urges her husband. On his second tour, Chris greets Jeff ("You're my hero") on his way back home: "Fuck this place." Lt Col Jones tells Chris he's "the most wanted man in Iraq."

When fellow SEAL Marc Lee (Luke Grimes), who nearly became a preacher, asks Chris what he's fighting for, Kyle replies: "God, country, family." "You got a God?" questions a disillusioned Marc: "I just want to believe in what we're doing."

At an auto-repair shop back stateside with his son, Chris receives words of appreciation from a grateful marine who lost his leg, telling the boy that his father, Chief Kyle, saved his life. But even when Chris is home, Taya complains that he's emotionally absent: "I'm making memories by myself. No one to share them with…. They pull you back." Chris replies: "They can't wait and we can."

During Chris's third tour to Iraq, fellow SEAL Biggles (Jake McDorman) is seriously wounded in the face and blinded. The insurgents have a crafty sharpshooter as well, Mustafa (Sammy Sheik), who had been a member of the Syrian Olympic marksmen team, "hitting head shots from 500 yards out."

Shortly after Marc vows, "Eye for an eye," Chris and Taya attend a memorial service, listening to Marc's mother reading her son's letter: "My question is when does glory fade away and become a wrongful crusade or an unjustified means ... which consumes one completely?" Before returning once more to avenge his fallen comrades, Chris says to Taya that Marc's attitude as expressed in the letter killed him: "He paid the price."

"Tell me why you do it," pleads Taya: "You did your part…. I need you to be human again." She delivers an ultimatum: "If you leave again, I don't think we'll be here when you get back." From his rooftop position, Chris watches a little boy trying to pick up an RPG from the dead insurgent Chris has just shot; he prays that the child will put it back down.

Looking down on the scene from a drone's perspective as a massive sandstorm moves forward, the camera shows Mustafa at a distance of 2100 yards from Chris, both on rooftops, though the SEALs initially set up in the wrong direction, costing another casualty. "It's him," Chris identifies his nemesis, but at more than a mile off, it's an impossible shot. The sound of his rifle alerts the enemy to the location of the outnumbered Americans: "We can't hold 'em any longer."

After one thousand days in four tours, with over 160 kills, Chris Kyle finally decides he's going home for good, insisting he has no regrets, though he feels haunted by all the guys he couldn't save. As recompense, he helps vets through the VA. Teaching his son how to hunt wild game, Chris remarks: "Heck of a thing to stop a beating heart."

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Copyright © 2015 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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