Heroes and Saints

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle
“Heroes and Saints”
A Review of American Sniper by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, R
Reel Rating, Four Reels            

American Sniper is thoughtful if terribly complex, much like the war and man that inspired it. As a piece of craftsmanship, it’s impossible to deny the film’s quality with superb direction by Eastwood and a beautiful performance by Bradley Cooper as Navy Seal Chris Kyle, the “most lethal sniper in American history.” War is among humanity’s worst fruits, losing lives and casting off numerous other sins in its wake the echo for generations. Yet, it is at times necessary to defend the innocent. Jesus said “turn the other cheek,” but also “sell your cloak and buy a sword.” Sometimes the line is obvious, sometimes it isn’t, and this is definitely the latter.
Kyle’s motivation to go to war is simple: he sees the bombing of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and wants to do something about it, signing up for the Navy SEALS, the military’s most elite task force, and is soon on his way to Iraq days after his wedding. Despite his training, nothing prepares him for the real horrors of war. There’s a wide range of options in the military. My grandfather fixed battleship engines in the Pacific. My wife’s grandmother chauffeured generals. Yet a sniper does absolutely nothing but kill other human beings; their “accomplishments” can only be measured in blood. Kyle allows the role to consume him, especially after he begins a game of cat and mouse with another sniper, a mysterious Olympic shooter known only as Mustafa, and watches his friends die one after another in battle. As the dust finally begins to settle, Kyle returns home only to begin a much bigger trial and he finds his unique skill set totally unfit for civilian life.
Was the United States unjustified in its invasion? Probably. Were the insurgents justified in attempting (and now succeeding) to create a violent theocratic state? Most certainly not. Neither Eastwood nor Kyle have anything to say about reasons for the Iraq War, and it would be wrong to use American Sniper for its defense; this is a movie about how war effects those who fight it, not political theories. Justified or not, the American soldiers use appropriate discretion yet also fall prey to stereotypes, often referring to their enemies as “savages.” Kyle takes his job extremely seriously, even if those around him do not. He shows restraint when using his deadly talent but does not hesitant to kill when he must. Several times, he explains his actions. “I'm willing to meet my creator, and answer for every shot that I took,” he tells one man. He is a patriot, defending his family, friends, and country. The insurgents have no such discretion, drilling a hole in the head of a child when his father helps the Americans and forcing women to run at tanks with grenades, scenes that occur every day in the dystopia that has now named an elementary school after Osama Bin Laden.
As the trials of battle claim various victims, Iraqi and American alike, Kyle seems untouchable. However, he begins to lose something even more precious than his life. The war slowly engulfs him, and Kyle volunteers for multiple tours of duty even as his marriage hangs by a thread. When he rarely returns, he is cold and distant, uninterested in his wife and children, consuming vast quantities of alcohol with a resting pulse that seasoned coffee drinkers would envy. All of these are clear signs of PTSD, the secret demon of veterans. Kyle received 160 confirmed kills out of a probable 255, which sounds impressive until one sees that Kyle had to decide in tiny seconds whether to take a rational soul, loved and created by God, from this Earth. Two. Hundred. Times. It wrecks the mind and pierces the heart. Finally at his wife’s insistence, he visits a VA hospital and explains why he wants to go back for a fifth tour. “What haunts me is the men I couldn’t save,” he mumbles. The doctor gives a wise smile: “There are plenty of people here who need saving.” Soon Kyle finds peace by visiting other veterans and teaching them to hunt. As the film closes, he finally understands what he was really fighting for, and how he almost lost it when he grew to love war rather than man.
It’s very easy to sit high on a pedestal and judge those who take up arms. What Sarah Palin and Michael Moore miss is that war is not fought by philosophers, politicians, or activists but by farmers, teachers, cooks, garbage collectors, choir directors, high school dropouts, bank tellers, fathers, husbands, mothers, and wives. For them, it is a simple matter of fighting for their country, staying alive, and hopefully coming home to a safe and humble life. These are not saints, the ones who chose the supernatural path of Christ and accept martyrdom. Kyle did many things that were immoral, but he is a hero. Kyle, and so many others, chose to take up arms both physical, the gun, and metaphysical, the ethical strain. Americans must remember their sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy but the Chaldean refugees in Syria do not. May God bless them all.