Movie Review: shots at “American Sniper” are way off target

“In the world there are people who take a power drill to a kid. Thank God there are people like Chris Kyle up on a roof who blow the guy with the power drill’s head off.”

This is comedian and commentator Dennis Miller’s reply to Fox News star Bill O’Reilly when the latter asked him about complaint’s from some that the film “American Sniper” is pro-war propaganda.

O’Reilly noted prior to  Miller’s comment that he was annoyed at the attack on “American Sniper” because he felt that director Clint Eastwood had gone out of his way to show the suffering endured by Kyle and his wife from the Iraq War.

I would agree with both men’s assessment of this film, a unique work that is creating quite a stir at the box office and in American culture at the moment.

I knew little of Kyle’s story before I went to see “American Sniper” last week, but a close friend and my brother-in-law were highly complimentary of the flick. Therefore, I had high expectations for it. I was not disappointed.

The storyline generally follows Kyle’s four tours (yes, four!) of Iraq where he protected American Marines from concealed places with his adept shooting skill.

It was the culture shock Kyle experienced in going back and forth from the normality of the US to the chaos of war that moved me the most.

Kyle, played by a beefed-up Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”, “American Hustle”), sees himself as a man on a mission to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. Much of the conflict in himself and with his wife comes from the guilt he endures when he is not in Iraq carrying out it out.

American Sniper Movie (1)

                                  Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper filming “American Sniper”

Credited with the most “kills” by a sniper in American history, Kyle has been quoted as saying that it was not the shootings that troubled him most.

It was my duty to shoot the enemy, and I don’t regret it. My regrets are for the people I couldn’t save: Marines, soldiers, buddies. I’m not naive, and I don’t romanticize war. The worst moments of my life have come as a SEAL. But I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job.

Cooper reflects this attitude in the film. He did something for me that I feel an actor should always do. His performance made me forget that the person on the screen was not an actor. As far as I was concerned, as I got lost in the film, I saw Cooper as Chris Kyle.

While I would agree with O’Reilly that the violence is downplayed, it is there. Yes, there is blood in the movie, but as I told a friend today, it is a “tempered gore”. There is enough of it to show the tragedy of death under such circumstances.

The person who enters the cinema expecting to see a war movie will be disappointed. Like the 1955 film “Battle Cry”, the film is not so much about combat as it is about the sad effects of it on people’s lives.  (In fact, I like to tell my friends the former flick is more “cry” than “battle”.)

Indeed, it was not the deaths of the people in Kyle’s sights in “American Sniper”that bothered me the most. It was his senseless killing back in the States at the hands of a veteran that he was trying to help.

I mistakenly entered the theatre too early and saw his funeral procession as the credits ran. I quickly hurried out of the room, but even at that point thinking about his ultimate demise was a very emotional experience.

Why? Because as Miller and others have said, I knew that Chris Kyle is an American hero before entering the theater. The movie just confirmed it.

Unfortunately, for him to survive multiple visits to a horrible battlefield and end up dying violently in his own land speaks volumes about our culture today.

However, given what one headline writer called the “rampage” at the box office to see “American Sniper”, I believe there is hope for our society. Most people value the contribution Kyle made “over there.”

To echo Dennis Miller, thank God for such men.

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People line up to see “American Sniper” as I exit the theatre

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