Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American Sniper

I usually go to the movies during less than peak hours to avoid being mobbed by the fans of my best-selling, antediluvian steampunk novels: The Dragoneers; The Lost Dragoneer; and The Last Dragoneer. This strategy must be working because I haven’t been mobbed once this year. At the cinema, the only person in front of me was a retied Navy SEAL, wearing a hat proclaiming his Vietnam veteran status and sporting a golden SEAL badge on his jacket. He commented on my “USAF Retired” hat, and we talked a short while as we waited in the popcorn and soda line for the popular movie, American Sniper

Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the movie is based on Amazon’s best selling book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. Currently rated as the #1 Paid book in the Kindle Store, it has over 6210 reviews with a new one being added every hour or so. 

My novels and his autobiography are miles apart in theme and category, but as an author, I am impressed by the readers’ response. I bought the book before I sat down to write this review but have not read it yet. My comments are about the story as presented in the movie and my opinions.  

Chris Kyle learned to shoot from his father.  During a hunting trip, we see a young Chris impress his father with marksmanship skills beyond his years. Growing up, Chris learns to face bullies with physical force. We watch as he rescues his younger brother from an merciless, oversized schoolyard bully, who had been so harsh that we didn’t mind seeing his face get bloody. Maybe the bully would change his ways, after being taught his lesson. 

The moral courage to face down bad guys seems to have been born inside of Chris. This unusually talented marksman with the courage to take on bullies grows up to be a rodeo cowboy, who has an epiphany after the 1998 terrorist bombing of U.S. embassies. There are bad guys scheming to do great harm against his country and others, and Chris is convinced he should step up and do his part. The Navy recruiter sees the potential dangerous man looking to sign up and invites him to become a SEAL.

Enough of the SEAL training is shown to illustrate that warriors are made, not merely born. When warriors are forged from the natural talent and determination of such men as Chris Kyle, they become remarkable. After 9/11, he finds himself supporting Marines as a sniper. He is so good at it that people around him start labeling him, calling him the Legend and a few other things. Several times during the movie, it becomes apparent that Chris is not keeping count, but those around him are. Chris remains focused on doing his job to protect his brothers in arms. On multiple occasions, we observe him struggling with the decision to shoot or not. 

There are a lot of moving parts in urban warfare. Not everyone is a bad guy, but bad guys abound and they don't wear traditional uniforms. One man might be calling his wife to say he’ll be late for supper, but another might be calling in positions of American soldiers so that his co-terrorists can load up children with explosives to execute suicide attacks. 

Good guys hesitate killing children, so they make an attractive delivery platform for bad guys. Then another child might be simply watching the action without evil intent. A sniper has limited time to make the determination; wait too long and your brothers may be dead. An observer warns Chris during one situation that he’d better be right or he’ll be sent to Leavenworth. Fear of going to prison doesn’t sway his actions. Stopping bad guys from harming others is his goal. 

The viewers are shown enough of what bad guys do to understand that evil exists. Evil is something like a raging forest fire, it will not stop until everything it can destroy is consumed or unless someone stops it. Good guys stop bad guys. Sheep dogs are needed to stop wolves because the sheep are never going to do it. Showing that bad guys are evil, helps confused viewers from giving pity and emotional support to the bad guys when they are stopped. Not all attacks are physical.

The combat scenes are intense, representing the chaos and physical demands of battle. Movie-goers will not be disappointed, but such a life cannot sustain itself to a man with more to live for. His wife grows weary of his long absences. On his trips home, she pleads with him to rejoin her, saying that she's making memories on her own. After a particularly intense battle, he decides to agree with her. 

War often leaves scars that are deeper than skin. Back home, Chris tells a VA counselor that he was prepared to account for each pull of his trigger to God. All along, Chris was motivated by physical courage to use his training and natural talents to save his brothers. The counselor suggests he can still save some.

With the horrors of war mostly behind him, he returns to his family and dedicates his life to helping damaged veterans reclaim their lives. Unfortunately, he falls victim to a veteran he was trying to help. The real-life trial is pending, but regardless of the outcome, we’ve lost Chris. If we didn't have the pleasure to know him before his death, we can learn a little about him through this movie and his book.

It is interesting to hear people vilify Chris Kyle. When I pay close attention to their words, I am inclined to believe there are some people who loathe all American veterans, and those same people seem to uniformly loathe the concept of American exceptionalism. In spewing insults at Chris Kyle they mostly serve as a warning to the rest of us to make the difference we can, while we still have the time and strength to do so. America needs less attempts at fundamentally changing our way of life, and more men like Chris Kyle, doing the best they can. 

Chris Kyle did not cause evil to attack us. He did not make the sovereign decisions, which set his nation at war. Like myriad others, he offered up his life to protect his country. Chris was motivated to do the best he could at everything he did and he was remarkably talented. This movie is his story.

American Sniper has all the emotions anyone could want from the cinema. You will have plenty of opportunities to chuckle, cheer, cringe, and cry. Take advantage of those opportunities as you see fit, but you owe it to yourself to go see this movie. 

Don’t forget the popcorn.