I went to see the movie, American Sniper Tuesday evening. Released in December 2014, it wasn’t a high priority for me, but knowing how Clint Eastwood approaches a story like this, I thought it should be on my viewing list. I received the visual experience I expected. It’s a no nonsense story of a man’s brief life who served in four tours in the Iraq War and became the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.
What I also saw was a Bradley Cooper who immersed himself in the role. It can’t be easy for an actor to absorb the deportment and emotional demeanor of someone like a Chris Kyle. This isn’t a John Wayne or even a Clint Eastwood role in which the character portrays someone larger than life, charismatic, stoic, jaded, and able to give great stump speeches. Cooper packaged the role in a way where I could see someone like a Kyle, complex, saddled with the baggage of being a tougher man in a tough war, trying unsuccessfully at times, to reenter the civilian world. “I might have to tie you up with a rope and drag you behind my truck to knock some of the pretty off of you,” Chris Kyle told Bradley Cooper during their first and only phone conversation.
Cooper was every bit as good at portraying Kyle as Peter O’Toole was in his role as T.E. Lawrence. I know making such a sweeping statement, might attract criticism, but what I focused in on was the tangible way Cooper brought this man to life without the underpinnings of overly dramatic acting. This is a different time for film biography, not the David Lean panoramic vistas combined with the Shakespearean influence of RADA. This is a not so embellished view of a real man serving in a war which later has been criticized as an unnecessary incursion into a highly volatile region of the globe. Combining that criticism with the moral ambiguity questions which naturally arise from this, it has given this film a less than enthusiastic endorsement from some entertainment critics. Whatever your views, this is a well acted and staged portrayal of a man whose life ended all too soon.
I didn’t receive the level of training which Kyle required in becoming a SEAL, but much of what I experienced in the Marines paralleled his boot camp experience. Our DI’s were all Vietnam combat experienced infantrymen and their training was designed to be intense enough to at least shock us 90 day wonders into something which might resemble the hardships of battle. Of course nothing they or Kyle’s trainers could do would prepare recruits for war and the toll it takes on the mind as well as the body for many who have served. Entering a branch of service which is designed to take you from your, “back on the block or farm days”, to a point where you’re willing and able to kill another human, is a gruesome business. When you can step back and look at it objectively, showing the life of one extraordinary man, then you have the basis of a good work.
Kyle entered the Navy’s elite SEAL training program after being rejected by the Marine Corps due to pins remaining in his arm from surgery after sustaining a severe injury in a rodeo event. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2009 and wrote a bestselling autobiography, American Sniper, published in January 2012. On February 2, 2013, Kyle was shot and killed by Eddie Ray Routh at a shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas, along with friend Chad Littlefield. I don’t use the word alleged, because even the accused doesn’t deny the fact he committed the act. This is an ever so brief, unflinching look at a life of a man celebrated by many as a hero, but in reality is an opening act for a much longer story which likely few of us will know and have the slightest understanding.
His wife Taya Kyle along with his family will have to carry on, without the foundation they grew to rely on. New direction and life forming behavior will become part of their vista, none of which we can completely comprehend.
I recommend this film as a must see for those who aren’t necessarily going for the entertainment and aren’t there to pre-judge the disposition of the duties of a combat veteran.