American Sniper - Entertaining Film, Disturbing Book.

American Sniper

Clint Eastwood delivers another superbly entertaining movie. However, it’s hard to review the movie without considering the source material.

I’ve read other reviews that criticises the film because it shows a one-sided view of Chris Kyle and fails to tackle the politics of the Iraq War. Those reviews don’t seem to understand that the film is based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography, so of course it’s going to be one-sided. As for the politics, anyone who has read the book is in no doubt about Chris Kyle’s politics and his feelings regarding the Iraq War.

Leaving the cinema I felt a lot of sympathy for Chris Kyle and, even though I’m not an American, felt he rightly deserved his label as an American hero. These are not the feelings I had after reading the book.

It’s hard to read the book objectively and not get the opinion that a) he was a complete psychopath who loved killing, and b) he was actually a bit of an arsehole.

That person doesn’t come across in the film. Of course, in a 2 hour movie you don’t have the time to linger on the never-ending sniper kills. In the book you get the feeling that Chris is treating it like a video game - sitting on high picking off one insurgent after the other.

This is also a guy who loved nothing more than going out to bars at weekends and getting into fights with the locals.

The film also fails to adequately capture the tension and arguments between him and his wife. I heard the phrase “God, Country, Family” mentioned once in the movie, whereas in the book it was a continuing focus of dispute, with Chris believing country and patriotism was more important than family, and his wife failing to understand how he can put his country before family. They both agreed that God came first, perhaps telling us a little about the role religion played in their lives.

Where I also take issue with the film is where the screenplay has taken dramatic licence with the story. The central arc of the movie revolves around the battles to capture or kill Mustafa, the deadly Syrian sniper picking off American soldiers. In truth this plays only a small role in the book and Chris Kyle has very little involvement with the missions to capture or kill Mustafa.

Bradley Copper is super as Chris Kyle and rightly deserves his oscar nomination. I was worried that the movie might give Chris more depth and complexity than what came across in the book. In this regard I believe Bradley Cooper’s portrayal was fairly accurate. My takeaway from the book was that Chris was brainwashed. The events of the Embassy bombings and 9/11, perhaps understandably, gave him a single-minded view of the Iraq war being a noble cause to protect Americans at home. There was no mention in the book or film about the dubious politics of the Iraq war. In Chris’s eyes, it was a simple tail of good against evil.

The movie is entertaining, dramatic and full of tense scenes that will leave you on the edge of your seat. However, if you want to understand the real Chris Kyle, read the book, and only then make up your own mind whether he really was an hero or simply a psychopath who was given an opportunity to legally kill hundreds of people.