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American Sniper: A Review

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle
My wife and I, the kids are back in college and law school, saw American Sniper at a movie theater in Morris, Illinois on Saturday January 24.  It was the second performance of the day, beginning at 1:00 PM, and the theater still was almost full.  After seeing the movie, the one term that seems to me to apply is stunning, in every sense of the word.  Clint Eastwood has made a masterpiece, the finest of his movies as a director, a film biopic that perfectly captures the man Chris Kyle and his times.  It is not a film for kids due to intense combat scenes and frequent use of the f-bomb by troops.  My review is below and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in force.

The movie opens with scenes from Kyle’s childhood.  He and his father are hunting and Kyle kills his first deer.  We then see him as a young boy at a church service listening to a minister preaching a sermon.  The minister notes that we see our lives as a series of events and that we do not see the pattern of our lives that God perceives, especially since we do not see as God sees.  During the sermon Kyle fingers a blue bound Bible that he will carry for the rest of his life and which appears in many scenes in the movie.  The sermon establishes the method of the movie which consists of vignettes as Kyle proceeds through life.

When he intervenes in school to defend his younger brother from a bully and beats the daylights out of said bully, his father explains to him that night that people are divided up into three groups:  sheep, predators and sheepdogs who protect the sheep from evil and harm, and that he and their mother are not raising either sheep or predators.

As a young man we see him as a rodeo performer, marking time in his life.  A television news bulletin about an overseas bombing of a US embassy enrages him.  We next see him enlisting in the Navy to be a SEAL.  SEAL training is displayed with humorous touches emphasizing how rigorous it is.  After he becomes a SEAL he meets his future wife and their relationship stateside is the counterpoise throughout the film to the War in Iraq.  They are married shortly after 9-11.

The bulk of the movie consists of his four tours in Iraq, interspersed with scenes at home.

In Iraq Kyle quickly becomes a legend.  In fact, that is the nickname he is given by the Marines he serves with:  “Legend”.  As a sniper he provides cover for the Marines as they go door to door in the type of urban fighting that typified much of the Iraq conflict.  My guess is that this film will give most Americans their first true understanding of what the fighting in Iraq was like.  Nineteenth century writer Ambrose Bierce, “Bitter Bierce”, once observed that wars, he was a combat veteran of the Civil War, were God’s way of teaching Americans geography.  Sometimes a good film can perform the same function of teaching the general American public the grim realities of combat, and American Sniper does that for the fighting in Iraq.  Peaceful settings can become deadly in an instant, and the line between enemy combatants and innocent civilians is thin to non-existent.   The fighting is shown as being intense and deadly, albeit usually brief.  Kyle eventually joins the Marines in their house to house fighting to show them SEAL techniques that might help save some of their lives.  Kyle is the very essence of a hero:  someone who goes into danger for others, in spite of the risk to his own life.  The Iraqi Jihadists, who called him The Devil of Ramadi, put a bounty on his head.  When it reaches $120,000 in the film Kyle jokes that it might tempt his wife on one of his bad days at home.

We see the moral quandaries that arose for Kyle as women and kids are used by the Jihadists against the American troops.  We see Kyle shooting one boy and a woman as they attempt to attack an American convoy.  Later in the movie we share Kyle’s relief when a boy puts down an rpg and runs away.  Kyle notes however that he regrets none of the shots he made.  What haunts him are the American troops he was unable to save.

There is almost no politics in the film.  Kyle is an uncomplicated patriot who views the US as the greatest nation in the world and sees it as his duty to defend her.  Some of his friends do come to question the Iraq War, viewing it as not worth the cost in American lives.

That such an apolitical film has aroused the ire of the Left is unsurprising however.  The American fighting men in this film are depicted as ordinary men performing heroically in very tough circumstances and that does not play into the stereotype of the Left of American troops being losers, victims or monsters.

The tours in Iraq take a toll on Kyle and eventually his wife convinces him to leave the SEALS, his War finally coming to an end.  In civilian life, he volunteers to help troops with physical and mental problems.  On February 2, 2013 he was slain by a 25 year old former Marine he was attempting to help.  No explanation exists for the slaying.  The film ends with scenes from the funeral of Kyle.  No one moved in the theater until the film was completed.  I think most of the audience was just as stunned by the film as I was.

Bradley Cooper gives a career making performance as Kyle, portraying him as a complete human being.  It is a three dimensional performance that causes us to care about Kyle as we view the arc of his life.

Men like Kyle deserve to be remembered.  American Sniper is a fitting tribute to a man who went into harm’s way for the rest of us.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

28 Comments

  1. Man I can’t even read this review with a dry eye.

    At times I think that if Jesus was to update the pharisee & tax collector today it would be the [professor/commentator/blogger/many] & the soldier.

    Anyone got a link to Toby Keith’s American soldier? Seems fitting here.

  2. . For those Christians horrified at the need to kill women and children if they are carrying bombs, let them peruse Jeremiah 7:18 whose point is that for God, it wasn’t just men that God held responsible for idolatry:
    ” 18 The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger.”
    Now a sane sniper has no deep wrath for such children ( that’s God’s orbit only) but they must be killed before killing others.
    Tom Cruise’s film “Jack Reacher” has several sinful snipers and an initial scene of one of them framing another while shooting innocents back in the USA in order to really kill one of those victims for financial reasons. There’s two strong moral elements fostered within the investigation by Jack Reacher, a third sharpshooter, as violent character himself but that morality is mixed in with immoral aspects of the same man including a final extrajudicial execution by him which is wrong unless epikeia is applicable…which was possible. “American Sniper” sounds way better.

  3. Donald,
    Like our last three Popes, D. Black seems to have missed Rom.13:4 which perceptive Aquinas saw for both death penalty and war and which is as much Christ’s concept as are His earthly concepts from the mouth…the red letter ones.

    D. Black,
    You come home from work to find your spouse being attacked by a criminal built like a Jets tackle. The criminal is strangling your loved one to death. All you can see for a weapon is a long screw driver but that suffices if you have enough love for your spouse to plunge it through the criminal’s eye and deep into his brain. What is the Christian thing to do? The state deputes to you the right to kill in accordance with its right to kill in Rom.13:4 which God inspired. What are going to do?

  4. The Iraq War did not Catholic Just War criteria. JP2 begged Bush not to go through with his decision. No Iraqi had a thing to do with 9/11 and Iraq did not attack the United States and certainly was no threat to our security. The WMD rationale was bogus, and even if they had existed it was no reason to invade the country, cause billions of dollars in damage and deaths of countless Americans and Iraqis. JP2 also told Bush exactly what would happen to the Christians in Iraq that had lived there for 2,000 years. Bush did not care. He boastfully said he went to work “with war on his mind”. If only Bush the Younger had the wisdom of his father, who had the chance to invade Iraq and passed because he knew the problems it would cost for this country and for the people of Iraq. Jesus weeps.

    http://archive.lewrockwell.com/hornberger/hornberger150.html

  5. I disagree with you vehemently about the Iraq War d Black, but I am rather bemused by you bringing it up on this thread that had nothing to do with the merits of the Iraq War. Are you so enraged over the Iraq War that you cannot tolerate a movie celebrating an American who served there bravely? Are you so blinded by politics that you cannot respect courage shown by someone who fought for this country in a war you opposed? If that is the case there are many words to describe such an attitude, but Christian is not among them.

  6. D Black,
    John Paul II warned the US not to dislodge Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 which Hussein had just invaded.
    John Paul II warned of dire consequences….but Iraqis surrendered in the thousands almost immediately in the desert. Post 1991 JPII was becoming a quasi or sporadic pacifist and in 1995 in Evangelium Vitae, he used the front and back of a death penalty couplet (Gen.9:5-6) to argue against man killing man in sect.39…. while never showing the reader the death penalty part of the couplet he was using. It’s hilarious to those of us who have many passages by rote memory.
    You avoided my question. Try to be truthful this time and not an ideologue. Would you kill a home invader out of love for your spouse? Here’s how nice they are as humans:

    http://youtu.be/dvvHMM6TF50

  7. I am sick and tired of liberal progressive Democrat propaganda from the likes of people such as D Black. I will stop. Anything further will get me in trouble. May God bless our heroes like Chris Kyle, and may God bring the murdering Islamic Jihadists and the baby-murdering Democrats to the justice that they so richly merit. God save America!

  8. I have to correct myself. D Black referenced a web link to a Lew Rockwell web page. He is libertarian and as isolationist as Ron Paul; he is not a liberal progressive Democrat. But both groups of people generate and disseminate the same anti-war propaganda, and both are wrong.

  9. To the mind reader that called me a liberal I have never voted for a Democrat in my 65 years on this earth. I am also a veteran. No one who has served in the Middle East has defended me in any way shape or form. Chickenhawk talking points from cowards that never served but gladly send your sons and now daughters to far away lands to kill others. This whole hero worship of all things military is guilt for the despicable way Vietnam vets were treated before and after Vietnam. “War is a Racket”. – MajGen Smedley Butler, USM.

  10. “Chickenhawk talking points from cowards that never served but gladly send your sons and now daughters to far away lands to kill others.”

    I served in the Army during the seventies D. Black. I suggest that you withhold insults from people you know squat about. If you do not think Jihadists are not a threat to you, you are delusional.

  11. I was a Nuke Bubblehead, not a Chickenhawk. I will confess to having been cowardly in that I avoided serving in battlefield combat by having served as a reactor operator aboard a US Naval nuclear submarine instead. I preferred the instantaneous death of rapid implosion from torpedo impact to being wounded in the jungle or desert. I am not the hero that Chris Kyle clearly was.

  12. PS, I served during the Iranian hostage crisis when that Democrat jerk Carter sat where Obama sits today. When Reagan won the election, all of us on the sub cheered. Reagan made us strong again.

  13. D Black,
    Veteran too. Saw more action on the NY harbor streets through living wrong. Thanks for your service. Now I find you incomprehensible but I think you’d kill to protect within your house whatever you say with your lips….so I won’t worry about your loved ones. I sleep with a gun each night because I have a person who said they’d shoot me after losing a street fight to me after I tracked him down over his removing goods from our one city house. Figured he’d come during sleep hours with a pistol. On the street one night, I saw two hooded guys looking at me then at each other and arguing. One obviously wanted to move on me and it could have been him. The other was warning against it.
    One night months later, the motion detector went off. I get totally cool in that situation and waited with the gun for further noises. Must have been a mouse.

  14. Excellent review of a great, if flawed movie (I speak of some of the hackneyed dialogue). I’ve never had the experience of exiting a theater to absolute silence as I did with the movie.

  15. When I referred to chickenhawk I was specifically referring to the government officials that ran scolded dogs from serving during Vietnam. They are always the quickest to send others to do what they themselves thought they were too good to do. I also believed in the mission in Afghanistan. Iraq was a fools errand.

  16. At the time I did not agree with invading Iraq, but I assumed Bush had access to better intelligence info than a mere civilian citizen like me. I was glad when Saddam Hussein – an evil and vicious man – was finally captured. And I believed that most of our service men and women were performing heroically in a land dominated by sickening and depraved Islamic feudalism. Personally, I think our nation should go all nuclear, use nuclear electricity to make liquid hydrocarbon fuel from coal, and tell all the Muslims to go drown in their oil. My only caveat to that is issuing a promise that any attack against Israel would be met with the annihilation of the attacker. But God thankfully has prevented me from ever acquiring power. 😉

  17. I’m pretty certain that when Mr. Kyle made it to Heaven, he discovered that all his sins were wiped out at the Cross, and in His Baptism…and that God recognized him as one belonging to Christ and said, “what are you waiting for? Get in here!”

    …or something along those lines

  18. “What haunts him (Kyle) are the American troops he was unable to save”.

    My guess is that the men and women who returned home from battles or conflicts had very similar hauntings.
    Replaying the horrific scenes over and over. No wonder self medications are abused as they struggle with the “what if’s”. My late uncle served in Patton’s 3rd Army. He barely was able to cope with the memories.

    God indeed welcomes them home.

  19. I don’t know if how to comfort the survivors of war’s horror, but one phrase I heard from a soldier that I wish all those struggling could take to heart:
    “We survived so someone could tell the stories and lessons of war to the next generation.”

  20. Philip & Nate, you both make great points. I know of two such men, who both fought in WWII. My grandfather, who never spoke of any bit of the war. He died 20 years ago. And an old family friend, who loves telling war stories & could talk your ear off for days — he’s still living.

  21. HEY DRM – I owe you so much for all the wonderful, for me thrilling little snipettes you have given or reminded me and others of regarding our history especially but our lives in general here while being citizens of heaven. i have one for you……
    My theater was packed, and dead silent all thru the final frames of the movie; the regular citizen salute to Chris Kyles funeral is well summed up in an short tribute with pics on the interent entitled ‘ a texas farewell ‘ and i strongly recommend it, but back to the debt i want to repay and ‘ silence’.

    In Charles Bracelen Floods’ tribute to R. E. “Lee The Last years” , Houghton Mifflin Co. @1981- Boston…. Chapters 31 – 34 , especially 33 part II, he tells of Lee and daughter Agnes’ trip thru the deep south [early 1870, months prior to his stroke and death]. Very moving and inciteful. Nearly every line has a poignant, touching recollection of Lee, seeing his dad’s grave in Georgia [ Light Horse Harry Lee] his meeting former officers or being greeted with love and admiration by ordinary people. In Chapter 33, part II flood speaks of the great ferocity and fraternal love of the ‘hurricanes’ the 15,000 or so warriors in the Rebellion from florida. Especially at Cold Harbor. Many turned out families in tow, with the city of Jacksonsville to greet the General on his arrival. Savannas’ welcome had been deafening just a few days before. So many people came on board the boat began to dip – so Lee agreed to come to be seen by the crowds from the upper deck of the steamer early afternoon. Coming to the rail, hat in hand to greet the throngs that had gathered to meet and greet the Old General, Silence came over all. And remained. Rich, pregnant Celestial Deafening silence. The book and those chapters …. it is the only other time for me, in addition to “Bang the drum slowly” and now american sniper, where in the audience was respectful in their deafening silence. I fell silent the first time i saw Peter Grimes live but i digress.
    Thanks for all the history and life lessons… i wish life would allow us to share a few beers and some finger food in conversation, primarily with me listening. Perhaps in the next life. …… paul c

  22. Ditto to all your comments, Don. This was a seminal movie for this conflict and this generation of American military personnel, in my view.

    Those opposed to our involvement are blind to the nature of the war we’re in, which is in reality the latest chapter of the 1,500 year war Islam has launched against the West and Christianity. Iraq was merely the latest venue for the contest between Islam and the West.

  23. Most of my thoughts are flecked with “hackneyed GI dialogue.” The four-letter-words fly like geese in a gale.
    .
    So, I go to Mark Hemingway for thoughts on the film, and the estimable Mr. Eastwood.
    .

    “The film is primarily about the heroism of soldiers who, thrust into battle by larger forces, do their best to protect each other and innocent Iraqis. Clint Eastwood, often described as one of the few prominent right-wingers in Hollywood, opposed the invasion of Iraq and questioned the invasion of Afghanistan. Even so, the film’s lack of left-wing politics has been treated in some quarters as an unpardonable sin.”
    .

    And, Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan), “[…] Chris Kyle’s story deserved to be told. It tells a story of the stress that multiple deployments have on one military family, a family representative of thousands of military families. It helps to communicate the toll that the war on terror has taken on our defenders. Defenders and families who need our support. […]”
    .

  24. “For who is God but the Lord? Or what rock is there but our God? God who has girt me with strength and made my way secure, who has made my feet swift as the feet of deer, and set me on the high places, who has trained my hands for the battle, and my arms for bending the brazen bow. And thou hast given me thy saving shield, and thy great hand has sustained me, and thy care has made me great. Thou hast made the way wide for my footsteps, nor have my feet staggered. I pursued my enemies and I overtook them, nor did I turn back until I had slain them.” Mine was a brief, honorable but inglorious military career, and a proof that we are not tempted beyond our strength.
    Mr. Kyle, thy name is David.

  25. Most of Clint Eastwood’s directed movies are amazing. I was disappointed with Million Dollar Baby because of its pro-euthanasia message, and recall feeling shocked by the conclusion, to what I thought was a great story. Looking forward to seeing American Sniper.

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