Review: We Need More American Snipers

Hollywood should shine a brighter spotlight on military community's sacrifices.

By Tom Sileo Published on January 30, 2015

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 4

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 4

“I‘m willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot I took,” Bradley Cooper, portraying U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Chris Kyle, utters in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. The line is jarring and memorable, especially to those of us who haven’t served in uniform.

Even after spending five years meeting and speaking with our nation’s veterans, active duty service members and families of the fallen, I refuse to presume — even for a second — that I understand their pain. Simply put, it is impossible to fully comprehend war unless you’ve been through it. Yet some of American Sniper‘s most harrowing moments, especially those that show terrorists brutalizing children, help us understand an essential truth: Evil still exists.

While we should all be thankful that Americans like Chris Kyle volunteer to confront evil, we must also help and listen to those who’ve witnessed the unimaginable. As we see Kyle’s character assist other veterans even as he faces his own struggles, Eastwood’s film becomes a stirring call to action.

American Sniper gives us a much-needed glimpse into not only one of the Iraq war’s most violent chapters, but how it impacted — and continues to impact — the approximately one percent of our population that selflessly shoulders war’s burdens. Watching the movie is difficult, especially due to the film’s realistically raw language and violence. But after all our military community has sacrificed, I do not hesitate in urging every American adult with the intestinal fortitude to experience this film.

Cooper’s nuanced performance and Eastwood’s masterful direction are triumphant and award-worthy. Sienna Miller does an admirable job portraying Kyle’s wife, Taya, although some of her character’s dialogue is repetitive to the point of risking cliché. Still, many war films omit showing the strain that armed conflict places on military families, and for that, American Sniper becomes even more of a wake-up call.

I spent two years researching Fallujah, where some of the Iraq war’s bloodiest urban battles were fought by our brave men and women in uniform. Eastwood portrayed Fallujah’s deadly streets and narrow alleys exactly as they were described to me by veterans who fought there. To this day, some pundits criticize the actions of our troops in Fallujah and around Iraq. While civilian deaths and isolated atrocities are tragic, horrendous consequences of any war, American Sniper demonstrates how difficult, if not impossible, it must be for American service members to identify the enemy. Eastwood’s film, while not perfect, paints a vivid portrait of the post-9/11 battlefield.

Some on the American left, including some inside the media, have attacked the merits of not only American Sniper, but Kyle himself. This is cowardly and despicable for two reasons. First, Kyle can no longer defend himself.  Second, the movie does not carry water for either political party or the Iraq war. Denigrating the memory of a fallen service member, in my mind, is an abuse of the free speech rights that our military has fought to preserve. Those who have engaged in this nonsense are rightly criticized.

It is important, however, that every film be subjected to honest criticism. American Sniper and Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor are important achievements, but Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, released in 2008, remains the definitive modern war movie, in my opinion. All three are great films, but in terms of crisp storytelling and the development of riveting characters, The Hurt Locker sets the standard.

Thirty years before The Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Deer Hunter was awarded the same Oscar. To me, no film has ever captured the devastating effects of war on families and entire communities like Michael Cimino’s masterpiece, which was anchored by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. While American Sniper contains several heartrending scenes (including an authentic sequence during the film’s end credits), The Deer Hunter‘s “God Bless America” conclusion is one of the most emotionally shattering moments ever put on film. To this day, the scene’s meaning is debated, which demonstrates its enduring greatness.

It is essential to recognize that The Deer HunterThe Hurt Locker, and even Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan are about fictional characters, although many were based on real people. American Sniper and Lone Survivor, on the other hand, were adapted from bestselling non-fiction books by real-life war veterans. Perhaps that does make the latter films even better.

Either way, American Sniper is a must-see movie. It brings to life the honor, sacrifice and pain of military service like few other films have. If Hollywood ever tires of inundating increasingly bored audiences with big-budget sequels, studio executives might realize that there are thousands of American heroes who should have their stories told. A commitment to doing so would not only enhance the art of filmmaking, but provide an essential service to the American public. We must pass the stories of this “new Greatest Generation” to our children and grandchildren.

Like many movie theaters across the country, my local cinema was silent as American Sniper ended and the sold-out crowd headed back into the world. As I quietly pondered that key quote — “I‘m willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot I took” — I also thought of the young Chris Kyle character going to church with his family and hunting with his dad. How could Kyle and so many other brave Americans willingly dedicate their lives to shielding the rest of us? And when their time in uniform is complete, how can they find peace?

No matter how many hours I spend with our nation’s courageous troops, veterans, and military families, I will never have the answers to these questions. But after spending two-plus hours experiencing American Sniper, I feel even stronger about helping spread the stories of our nation’s true celebrities: The men and women who raise their right hands and swear an oath to defend our country.

Chris Kyle’s story deserved to be told on the big screen.  Hopefully, more will follow.

 

Tom Sileo is a Senior Editor of The Stream. He is co-author of Brothers Forever: The Enduring Bond between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended their Ultimate Sacrifice.

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