All gun guys and most Americans, except perhaps for a few off-the-grid survivalists shivering in a dugout somewhere west of Des Moines, already know that the American Sniper is based on the exploits of Chris Kyle, the “most deadly sniper in American military history.” The same people also know how Chris Kyle’s story ended prematurely and violently at a Chalk Mountain shooting range, where he was gunned down by a man he was trying to help even though they hardly knew each other. American Sniper focuses on the rest of Chris Kyle’s story, taking 132 minutes to demonstrate, very graphically at times, that Gen. Sherman had a knack for understatement . . .
Be forewarned. Viewers who expect Director Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper to be a gung-ho war movie are going to be disappointed as they were on their first blind date. Yes, there’s plenty of action, and the ultimate firefight scene is particularly intense. But, as evidenced by “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwo Jima” and even “Gran Torino,” lately Eastwood is far more interested in depicting the effect of war on fighters than he is about glorifying the effect of fighters on war. Kyle’s battles in Ramadi and Sadr City only set the stage for the bigger battle in his mind and spirit.
Likewise, any previous expectations that this film would be a well-researched factual retelling of Kyle’s story were wildly misplaced. American Sniper is a work of fiction “based on” Kyle’s life, with many key scenes and plot devices being completely invented by a writer with more imagination than talent. Because war isn’t exciting enough for a silly auteur who has never been in one, and Hollywood never lets the truth get in the way of product placement or selling an extra matinee ticket.
Thanks to the writer (Oscar nominated!), the errors in American Sniper are more numerous than Chris Kyle’s confirmed kills. The anti-insurgency tactics represented in the movie are often dangerously wrong, with Marines spending more time pointing rifles at each other when entering a room than scanning it. The “Enemy at the Gates”-like duel to the death between Kyle and an enemy super-duper-delux-sniper called “Mustafa” – not to be confused with the fat waiter in Ratatouille – never happened in real life. It’s as phony as any Brian Williams tale of terror.
Kyle was not 30, the “old man” as claimed in this film, when he took his BUD/S training. Kyle did not call his wife during the heat of an intense firefight while his guys were getting blasted by all the militants on two continents. Kyle did not enlist because of 9/11; he claimed that he always wanted to be in the military and joined after too many rodeo broncs busted him instead of the other way around. The list goes on and on.
American Sniper has proven to be controversial in other ways as well. Pernicious horsefly Michael Moore, the under-talented and overstuffed Seth Rogen and the eternally smug and bitchy Bill Maher have all had their shots at Eastwood and Kyle. Their comments, like the general braying by jackasses on the hard left and the hand-wringing of metrosexual tools, are uninteresting. In fact, they are only worth mentioning because they illustrate the depths to which Beta males will sink in order to trash men with an Alpha image – especially when one of the Alphas is 84 and the other is conveniently dead.
Much has been made of Kyle referring to enemy insurgents as “savages.” I suppose he should have called them “good chaps” or something nicer, but I imagine that the savages had a few harsh words for Kyle, too. That’s war. It seems that people who want to complain about all the killing and stuff in this movie would probably find “Fifty Shades of Grey” more to their taste.
Audiences made up of real people have a somewhat different slant on American Sniper, and that’s what literally counts. Filmgoers have lined up, shelling out big bucks to see it, not only in the US where it strikes a patriotic chord, but also abroad. The film has brought in about $350 million worldwide through the first week of February, boosting an industry that last year saw ticket sales underperform like an arthritic contortionist. If Rin Tin Tin was the dog that saved Hollywood, then Chris Kyle may go down in history as the SEAL who saved Hollywood’s ass.
Then there’s the script. Aside from many obvious unforced errors, the script had its moments, such as when Kyle told his shrink, “I’m willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took.” Then Kyle said that he wanted to save his guys and regretted only that he didn’t save more. The doctor reminded him that the hospital they were in was “full of men who need saving.” Good stuff. Still, moments of depth and clarity in the writing are as few and far between as thousand yard head shots, and nobody will be comparing the dialog to “A Man for All Seasons.”
It’s the acting that carries American Sniper, starting with Oscar-nominated Bradley Cooper. He turns in a nuanced and ultimately admiring portrait of a man suffering from the survivor’s guilt, the loss of comrades in arms and a bit of a pot belly starting to push against his Under Armor. When Cooper tells Sienna Miller, as Kyle’s wife, “I’m ready to come home baby,” he does more with those six words of dialog than Seth Rogen might do with six pages. As anyone who saw “This is the End” or “The Green Hornet” can attest.
Cooper became Chris Kyle, doing everything he could to get into Kyle’s head except boinking his widow and paying his kids’ college tuition. Cooper trained with a voice coach to perfectly imitate Kyle’s smooth Texas drawl, and hit the weights and the buffet table so hard he gained 40 pounds of bulky muscle. There’s a scene where Cooper, as Kyle, deadlifts 425 pounds in the weight room. That scene wasn’t faked.
Cooper also learned to shoot with Kyle’s favored tools of the trade. Although he jerked the trigger on a few shots, Cooper nevertheless looked like a competent rifleman who could deal death at 600 yards. Or at least ring steel. He also wore Kyle’s shoes. No, really. I wouldn’t wear a dead man’s belt, but he wore a dead man’s shoes. Now that’s dedication.
Sienna Miller, who was not Oscar-nominated but should have been, turned in a luminescent performance as the oft-neglected Taya Kyle. Nobody does agony better than Miller, and Taya Kyle had plenty of that. Funny and flirtatious, Miller managed to look smoking hot while wearing a pregnancy prosthetic that made her seem about as gravid as a woman can get without her navel popping out like a turkey thermometer.
American Sniper co-stars some good supporting actors and some fine shooting irons. No disrespect to the actors, but the guns deserved higher billing.
The Guns of American Sniper
Chris Kyle used a McMillan TAC-338 to become “Al-Shaitan Ramad,” the Devil of Ramadi, with a price on his head (like all snipers in the sandbox). Cooper used a TAC-338A in the film, which is close enough for Hollywood work. The TAC-338A was equipped with a Leupold Mark 4 scope that Cooper seemed to fiddle with a bit too much when he was on overwatch, scanning for insurgents, lining up head shots and having phone sex with Sienna Miller. No, I’m not making up the last part. Fortunately, that’s when the Tangos chose to attack, sparing Cooper the ignominy of having to rock the Kasbah right there on the big screen.
Cooper had more guns than Neo. For house clearing, he chose a Knight’s Armament SR-25, equipped with a bipod and scope. And who wouldn’t? He also seemed fond of his MK 18 CQB carbine.
There can be little doubt that Kyle’s Marine buddies were terribly envious as they cleared rooms with their measly M16A4s, EOTech sights, IR designators and M203 grenade launchers. And an M249 SAW.
Oh, and one of Cooper’s fellow SEALs cheerfully lugged a Mark 48 LWMG with bipod and ACOG from room to room. Because every SEAL wants to schlep 25 pounds of iron, brass and lead in close quarters.
It seems that most of the small arms, machine guns and electric cannons in the US inventory were proudly displayed in American Sniper. Yes, but the enemy was also well-armed.
Mustafa used an FPK/PSL and an SVD Dragunov to kill Americans with head shots from 1000 yards or more. Mustafa’s insurgent buddies were equipped with the usual complement of AKMS and AKM assault rifles. An RPG-7 played a prominent role in the hands of a young boy who Cooper (and Kyle) really, really did not want to shoot. And every young Iraqi boy’s favorite plaything, a RKG-3 anti-tank grenade, precipitated Cooper’s first movie sniping – although that incident never actually occurred.
American Sniper owes much to “The Hurt Locker,” Director Katherine Bigelow’s take on a sergeant in a bomb disposal unit who missed the battlefield more than his child or his woman. THL was the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in Oscar history, so it had to be good.
American Sniper is a good movie that has fed the need of average Americans for some patriotism in their lives, since they’re not getting it from Washington. Still, it’s worth noting that there is nothing jingoistic about the film. American Sniper excited viewers when it had to and plucked their heartstrings too. I saw the movie on a snowy afternoon when I expected the theater to be almost empty because the smart people would be home roasting their chestnuts. But no. People are still coming out in droves. At the end of the movie, most of the paying customers applauded. I didn’t because I was too busy feeling sad.
Yes, sad. Chris Kyle survived four tours, spending over 1000 days in combat. He survived gunshots, IED attacks and two helo crashes. Kyle earned two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, and the honorific “Legend” from his fellow SEALs and the Marines he protected. He made a 2100 yard shot to stop an insurgent who was about to launch an RPG at his “boys,” as he called them. He survived all that, just to die back home in Texas and have his service belittled by people who aren’t fit to sniff his shoes, much less wear them.
Model: American Sniper
Caliber: .338 Lapua Magnum
Length: 132 minutes
Action: The final shootout is intense and absolutely gripping
Price: $58 million (est.)
RATINGS (out of five bullets):
Style * * * *
The action proceeds in fits and starts, the photography is workmanlike and the story engrossing despite the weak script. Miller is gorgeous, Cooper is studly, but aside from those two, the characters are poorly defined even though they are mostly well-played.
Reliability * * * 1/2
The story is highly fictionalized and departs from Kyle’s book in many respects. The main plot device – the faux Kyle vs. Mustafa duel – was “borrowed” from “Enemy at the Gates,” from the true story of Carlos Hathcock’s legendary exchange with Cobra, a North Vietnamese sniper sent to kill him, and other factual episodes of sniper on sniper shootouts throughout history.
OVERALL RATING * * * *
Despite its obvious flaws, American Sniper is a deeply touching movie because of its sad, true-life ending.