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Every Great War Film is a Great Anti War Film
When Chris Kyle was a young boy growing up in central Texas, he learned to hunt, to fight to win, he loved Jesus, bronco busting and enjoyed pretty girls. How was it that he grew up to become the ultra patriot, an American hero, and now with the critically acclaimed film about his life as a soldier breaking box office records, someone immortalized, lionized?
Simply, Chris Kyle was reared by a God fearing church deacon, Wayne Kyle, played by Ben Read, who taught him to hunt, know Jesus, and to understand the ways of this world, personified in these comments he made to Chris as a pre-adolescent:
"There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs," Wayne Kyle implores his receptive son to know. "Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn't exist in the world, and if it ever darkened their doorstep, they wouldn't know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep."
"Then you've got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They're the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog."
Wayne Kyle, as the good Christian father, extolled his son, Chris, to be the sheepdog. This prophetic pronouncement was employed throughout the Jason Hall screenplay of the Chris Kyle autobiography, then finely crafted into this Clint Eastwood film, as the seminal thread that drove Chief Petty Officer Kyle to be 'America's most lethal sniper'.
Yes, this Navy SEAL did kill women and children. Let's go ahead put that 'red meat' on the table. The film does not skirt around this truth; Director Eastwood reveals this reality in the first scene, which was true in real life for the legendary sniper - the initial kills for Chief Kyle, his first two of a confirmed 160 kills (actual number closer to 255 kills) were a pre-adolescent boy and a woman (probably the child's mother).
If your initial reaction is what kind of American hero would kill women and children, and then call the Iraq insurgents savages? You might should rather consider: What semblance of a society, governed by a strict religious sect, would push women and children - many of them - to confront American armored convoys with RPG grenades and other suicide based explosives to do the killing of American soldiers for their rather unproductive men. To continue a clarion point, for a clear thinking individual, especially an American citizen: Why would you care what Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was tasked to do, to save Marine lives, providing he remained within the United States Military's stringent rules of engagement?
Regardless of one's innate view of the proprietary of principled conduct during the 'fog of war', one must respect the artistry of the re-creation of narrative to celluloid; to tell the story convincingly and true, irrespective of how difficult of a tale it is to digest here in the civilized world of the United States of America. Elsewhere, in the corners of a more barbaric world, where 'honor killings', female genital mutilation, the stoning of women raped, homosexual genocide, and women denied any education, just to name a few of the societal atrocities within the Muslim world of the Middle East, most Americans are ill equipped with the wisdom or the intelligence to judge what soldiers, like Chris Kyle, did, and do, to protect their brothers in arms.
Accordingly, these dual threads of this tale of heroism and abject sacrifice: 1) The warrior spirit of the super soldier, who serves with great honor for 'God and Country', but, moreover, exhibits the incomparable vigilance to protect fellow SEALs, and act as a veritable overlord, with sniper rifle at the ready, to safeguard the lives of Marines in his charge; 2) the difficult decompression of the super soldier, who, irrespective of his ambition to deny his condition, suffered from profound PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Director Eastwood's treatment of these two issues, in his trademark succinct style, spare in composition, extraordinary as a communicative device, Mr. Eastwood's film is a work of art reminiscent of his best work in "Gran Torino", "Million Dollar Baby" and "Unforgiven".
Director Eastwood, as is his directorial style, condensed the essence of Chris Kyle's disordered predicament to a short meeting with a VA Psychologist:
Navy Doctor: "Would you be surprised if I told you that the Navy has credited you with... over 160 kills?"
Navy Doctor: "Do you ever think that... you might have seen things or... done some things over there that you wish you hadn't?"
Chris Kyle: "Oh, that's not me. No."
Navy Doctor: "What's not you?"
Chris Kyle: "I was just protecting my guys, they were trying to kill... our soldiers and I... I'm willing to meet my Creator and answer for every shot that I took."
Chris Kyle: "The thing that... haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save."
Chris Kyle: "Now I'm willing and able to... be there but I'm not, I'm here I quit."
Because of the film's indisputable sense for exhibiting the essential reality of war, "American Sniper" is nominated for Best Picture, among another 5 nominations, in this year's Oscar Awards. Bradley Cooper is nominated for Best Actor. His role as the heroic, conflicted Chris Kyle was as integral to this emotional tale of the ultimate human experience, as the expressive Jason Hall screenplay, and Clint Eastwood's tight, extra-efficient direction. Without Actor Cooper's visceral performance successfully transferred to a primed and receptive audience, the film would have simply been sufficient as entertainment, but not noteworthy to indelibly memorialize this hero, this good man - Chris Kyle.
Chris Kyle's wife, played by Sienna Miller, lobbied her husband to put their family first; however, for years, as Chief Kyle served 4 full tours in theaters of conflict, he put his fellow soldiers first; above Family, above Country, but not above God, for taking care of God's good children, as the proverbial 'sheep dog' would, is the highest and best duty any man could endeavor.
Below are Taya Kyle's comments extolling her beloved to completely come home to her:
Taya Renae Kyle, Sienna Miller: "If you think that this war isn't changing you you're wrong. You can only circle the flames so long."
Taya Renae Kyle, Sienna Miller: "You're my husband, you're the father of my children. Even when you're here, you're not here. I see you, I feel you, but you're not here."
"American Sniper", at its nucleic core, is a film about sacrifice - one's sacrifice of body and even spirit for the well-being, the safety of others is the most noble of gifts to humanity. The act is so American, so Christian, so profoundly who Chris Kyle was, as Jason Hall's script exposed him at his immutable center, as Clint Eastwood's direction expressed the essence of this timeless tale, and critically to the story, Bradley Cooper showed us all who Chris Kyle really was, and how important that brand of patriot truly is to sustain the freedom component that sustains our Republic. Chris Kyle knew without question that there are no second acts in a fire fight. I think what makes "American Sniper such a visceral triumph of expression is that this film communicates that our Republic is primed for a symbolic fire fight, and while heroes, like Chris Kyle, are unquestionably the first line of defense, the rest of us will know that war is Hell, and war is inevitable, and God bless those that make this sacfrifice for us.
Chris Kyle did not operate in the vacuum of anonymity, he was a soldier with a 6 figure bounty on his head due to his prowess with a sniper's rifle. Even to his fellow SEALS, his peers, he was known simply as the "The Legend". Marines operating in Ramadi and Fallujah felt somehow safer going door to door to clear the streets of insurgents/terrorists, with "The Legend" loose upon the rooftops taking out "the bad guys".
Chris Kyle was known infamously to the insurgents/terrorists as the "Devil of Ramadi", but what really impressed the Texan was that posters for his bounty had, as a symbol for his dissolution, the Crusader's Cross. That Crusader's Cross symbolically suggested the role that Chris's father gave him as the 'sheepdog', the one brave soul, imbued by God, to protect the 'sheep' from the 'wolves', the predators.
Chris Kyle may have been an effective soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq, enough to disgust most pacifist Liberals, but he began as a Texas Cowboy. As it is a truth that activist pacifist Liberals have a poor grasp of world history, there is an American history truth that Texas has produced more than it's share of heroes, from: Sam Houston, to World War II veteran Lt. Audie Murphy (the most decorated soldier in American History), to present day Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle, "The Legend". These are the true leaders who exemplify patriotism, that freedom is hard won, that devotion to duty is a sacrifice of supreme purpose, and would not continue today without these patriots' selfless efforts.
Rated R. Released in theaters January 16, 2015. 132 tight minutes of run time.
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