Saturday, January 17, 2015

American Sniper. A Review.

Chris Kyle was a complicated guy. Reading the book about his four tours of duty in Iraq was fascinating and horrifying. While I can be thankful that there exist men with the combination of courage and brutality that Kyle possessed, he's not exactly the sort of guy you invite to a barbecue. Still, the book was so intriguing, I read it twice.

I was anxious to see how Hollywood would portray the man. Would they turn him into a psychotic, trigger happy, brainless patriot? Would they turn him into a super hero? To my considerable relief Clint Eastwood presented as faithful a portrayal as I could have hoped for. The Chris Kyle of American Sniper was a man of flesh and blood with feet of clay, who was torn between his obligations to his family and the prodigious martial gifts that made him the most lethal fighting man in Navy Seal history. Bradley Cooper's performance was astonishing, worthy of an Oscar. The depictions of urban battle weren't  staged and neat, but rather, chaotic and confusing, lending an authentic madness to the film. When a sandstorm overwhelms a battle towards the end you can practically feel the grit in your teeth.

Eastwood did clean Kyle's character up a bit. In the heat of battle, he was known to have described the enemy in several pithy, colorful and racist ways. In this characteristic he was not unlike past generations of warriors. To the American GI in WWII, the Japanese and the Germans were called every degrading term imaginable. Part of this can be attributed to the necessity in war of demonizing the enemy. Killing someone doesn't come natural to most, even in wartime. If thinking that the guys on the other side who are trying to kill you are less than human makes it easier for you to pull the
trigger...well that's just part of what makes war hell.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the movie I happened upon several message boards that featured people in great distress over what they perceived to be the glorification of war and warriors that American Sniper represented. Many were horrified that there were men like Chris Kyle in the world. To them he was a sadistic, cold-blooded killer whose primary motivation was racism. In truth, there was a cold bloodedness to him, in that he was remorseless, convinced in the justice of his cause. He had little time for doubt, for in his mind doubt is what got people killed. But, there was no sadism
in him, no blood lust. Asking your most lethal fighting men to be deep-thinking, conflicted metro-sexuals is asking an awful lot! You don't have to love the Chris Kyles of this world to be thankful and appreciative that they exist.

By all accounts Chris Kyle was a brave and courageous man with a bit of a savior complex and a servants heart, who in the course of four tours of duty in one of the most dangerous places on earth managed to kill over 160 people who were attempting to kill American soldiers. For this he has my admiration and gratitude.