Sunday, January 25, 2015

Deadly At 1,000 Yards

Reel To Reel: American Sniper

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Battle Violence, Strong Language

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle killed 255 people in his military career, with about half of those officially confirmed by the military. He protected soldiers and civilians alike from Iraqi insurgents and rogues only to be cut down by a veteran he was trying to help. His compatriots called him a legend. Michael Moore just called him a coward -- not directly, but closely enough by slamming snipers in a tweet. I'm not going to discuss "that guy." Let's just stick to Bradley Cooper's interpretation of Kyle, which stands out as a haunting portrait of a man devoted to duty, honor, and country at the expense of his his family life and his mental health.

What drives Kyle? Patriotism. Justice. The need to protect America. But you can't pin it on any one thing. Kyle was more complicated than this film can describe, and yet it tries admirably and succeeds in many ways. We see him as a young boy and get the foundations of his moral code as he beats the tar out of a schoolyard bully. Yet this man is no model citizen as we see in his cowboy lifestyle until he sees terrorism playing itself out on television and decides he needs to be part of the solution.

We see Kyle go through SEAL training with a steely resolve and eventually establish himself as an ace shooter. He kills people. He kills a lot of them. "I was just protecting my guys, they were trying to kill... our soldiers and I," he tells a Navy doctor. "I'm willing to meet my CREATOR and answer for every shot that I took." Yet we see his volume of kills is not without consequences. One might think killing would get easier for Kyle with each successful shot, but it ends up complicating a moral ambiguity that silently gnaws at him against the backdrop of his marriage and growing family.

He is home between several of tours of duty, but the battle is still on his mind. His wife Taya (Miller) can't understand his devotion to the service and why he won't talk about what goes on at work. She comes to the point of wanting him to end it all, especially after she gets an unexpected exposure to the realities of war during a routine phone call from the front.

Cooper is fantastic in this movie because he doesn't seem like he's acting at all. He talks like the kind of focused, quietly strong veteran I have seen time and time again in soundbites as part of my job. Director Clint Eastwood moves the story along, and even though we feel like we don't know the half of Chris Kyle as described in the book that begat this film, we know enough to make us care.

Okay, I guess I am going to have to discuss what "that guy" and other have said. The notion somebody like Chris Kyle is not a hero because servicepeople simply follow orders is ludicrous. We have an all-volunteer military, meaning all those boots on the ground and in the commanders ranks stepped up to do this of their own volition, willingly putting themselves on the line to do the job a lot of people -- your humble servant included -- just don't have the guts to do. That's heroic in itself. Again, Kyle killed people who would've killed soldiers and civilians. That's heroic. Kyle did not bask in the honors lauded upon him or lift himself above others. That's heroic, too.

I've also heard the ridiculous suggestion this movie glorifies war. Have the people saying this even seen this picture in all its widescreen bloody starkness? See the film and make up your own mind. That's a freedom generations of military have died for.

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