The Authors

Our Reel Heroes Book
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison

Acknowledgements

  • ♦ We thank Fotomontaggio for the header photo from Wikimedia Commons.
  • ♦ Many thanks to the good folks at Sedona Taphouse for serving up some good eats after we watch the movies reviewed here.
  • ♦ Many thanks to our friends at The Numbers where we get our movie release information (which aids in advance planning)
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American Sniper •••••

American_Sniper_posterStarring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay: Jason Hall, Chris Kyle
Action/Biography/Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 132 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2014

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it looks like we get to review a real American hero.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Yes, sir. He’s a heroic American Sniper.


We’re introduced to a young Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who wants nothing more than to be a cowboy. But he’s hampered by the fact that real cowboys exist only in the past. Instead he’s a rodeo cowboy riding bucking broncs and steers. One day he watches the bombing of an American embassy on TV and he signs up for the Navy. It’s not enough to just join the military, he wants to be the best and toughest, so he signs up for the Navy Seals.


Kyle undergoes rigorous Seal training and meets his future wife Taya (Sienna Miller) in a bar. They fall in love and get married, but then Kyle is sent on his first tour of duty in Iraq. While sniping at the enemy, Kyle earns a reputation as the best and deadliest shooter in the armed forces. He earns the nickname “The Legend”. When he returns stateside, Taya notices that he is emotionally distant and shows worsening signs of PTSD.


Scott, American Sniper is the true-life story of the deadliest sniper in American military history. Director Clint Eastwood uses all his experience to create an accurate recreation of what it is like to be a modern American warfighter. We are witness to the extreme conditions that our service men and women have to endure to keep America safe. In one scene, we see the kind of dedication Kyle has to his profession. After a full day of maneuvers, Kyle’s commander climbs to the top of a building where Kyle has been sniping and proclaims that it stinks. And stink it does because Kyle hadn’t moved from the spot all that day and had relieved himself right there.


Greg, American Sniper is one of the most emotionally powerful movies of 2014. The movie holds no punches in depicting the horrors of war in graphic and stunning detail. Some viewers might believe that this movie glorifies American honor, valor, and patriotism. Perhaps it does. But the true take-home message of this film is that war exacts a horrible toll on all participants and that there is no winning, only degrees of losing — and everyone loses in a horrid, senseless way.

Bradley Cooper deserves kudos for his remarkable portrayal of a man who is assigned the task of killing people with his sniper rifle. And no one does it better. The hero story here is a fascinating one in that Kyle undergoes at least three transformations. The first is a transformation from a raw, unskilled recruit to a master of sniping. He must sacrifice plenty to get there — his freedom, his family, and his emotional well-being. We then witness Kyle’s second transformtion — his acquisition of PTSD. Then, in a final transformation, we watch him recover from this disorder. The hero’s journey is packed and powerful.


You’re right, Cooper makes a complete transformation into Kyle. Kyle represents all that is good in heroes. He is the best at what he does. He is protective of everyone – his family, his men, and his country. He has a strong moral code. He risks everything to be the protector. There’s a scene early in the film that explains why Kyle is so protective. He gets in a fight defending his brother from a bully. At dinner that night his father explains that there are three types of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The sheep can’t protect themselves, the wolves prey on the sheep, and the sheepdogs protect the sheep. And he made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that in his house he was raising sheepdogs. Rarely do we get to see the seeds of heroism as it is portrayed here.


You’re exactly right, Greg. This film gives us insight into the origins of Kyle’s brand of heroism. We see his dad’s influence on the development of his moral code, which is strong on loyalty, country, family, and saving others who need help. We see how the terrorist attack of 9/11 helped shape his patriotic zeal and how sniping was his perfect calling. We see how adapts to the role of “Legend” with natural ease yet remains uncomfortable with any idolatry directed his way.

The villains in this story are primarily the Al Qaeda fighters who are shooting and bombing American troops. But another villain is the disease of PTSD that Kyle must also fight and overcome. The enemy fighters are undeveloped characters who are less interesting in this movie than the PTSD, which emotionally cripples Kyle and other soldiers.


Kyle has a compulsion to return to Iraq over and over again to fight the terrorists. He is obsessed with protecting his flock. Eastwood puts a face on the villainy in Iraq. One such face is “The Butcher” who is a lieutenant to al-Zarqawi – a leading insurgent in Iraq. We see The Butcher maim and kill helpless women and children. There is also a Syrian sniper they call “Mustafa” who kills one of Kyle’s friends. Kyle is determined to kill Mustafa. It takes him four tours to do it and he risks the lives of all the men in his command when he does it.

You’re right about PTSD as another faceless villain in this film, Scott. We see its effect on Kyle. When Kyle returns home he visits a Veteran’s Administration hospital where the doctor recognizes Kyle’s disorder and recommends he talk to some of the other soldiers who have come back from the war. Kyle finds that he can help them recover from their disabilities through the discipline of target shooting. In helping others, Kyle finds a way to continue protecting his military brothers. In giving this protection, he finds his way back into civilian life – and he heals his PTSD.


American Sniper is one of the best films of 2014, showing us with searing intensity the story of a man who becomes the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. This film graphically exposes us to the vicious, blood-splattering realities of war. At times the extreme violence was nearly too much for me to bear. But it was necessary to tell not just Kyle’s story but the story of thousands of our veterans who have bravely faced such conditions. For a gripping and compelling story, I award this movie 5 Reels out of 5.

Kyle’s hero story is a complex one in its portrayal of his transformation into a legendary marksman, and also his transformation from an emotionally traumatized veteran to a recovered healthy civilian. Like all good heroes, Kyle receives assistance along the way both within the military and beyond it. His wife Taya and his children are instrumental in helping him adapt to normal life back home. Kyle’s hero story merits 5 out of 5 Heroes.

The villainy in American Sniper is less well-developed than the storytelling and the development of the heroic characters. We aren’t given any details about the origins of the enemy army or their motivations. We do witness the slow progression of PTSD in Kyle but there we aren’t privy to the details of the disorder’s onset, progression, or treatment. This film only paints its villains with minimal brushstrokes and so I can only award the villains a rating of 3 out of 5.

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American Sniper is not just a great story about a real American hero, but one of the best-made movies we’ve seen this year. Clint Eastwood spends just the right amount of time in Kyle’s backstory so that we understand where he comes from. Then he propels us with Kyle into the special world of being a sniper in Iraq. Kyle’s first kill is a small child and we see both the necessity of the act, and the conflict it creates within him. It’s a crucial moment in the film and Eastwood captures it skillfully. It’s just one of a dozen such well-crafted moments. I give American Sniper 5 out of 5 Reels.

Bradley Cooper is unrecognizable as he completely transforms himself by gaining muscle mass and taking on the mannerisms and vocalisms of Kyle. We truly see Chris Kyle on the screen, not Cooper. We’re taken on the complete arc of the hero’s journey in this movie. We start out with Kyle as a boy being instilled with the heroic values of protecting those weaker than himself. We watch as he becomes a good, then great sniper. And we witness his descent into obsession and affliction with PTSD. Finally, we see him overcome his PTSD and go on to help others. I give Chris Kyle 5 out of 5 Heroes.

There are several villains in this movie. The main villain is the Iraqi bad guys who Kyle is fighting against. We don’t see much of them and I get the sense that director Clint Eastwood assumes we know this villain and it needs no introduction. Still, he gives us a sense of the terrorists by showing us The Butcher and Mustafa who are the face of villainy in American Sniper. We don’t get much of the villain’s journey – but that’s not what this movie was about. For Kyle to be the hero, it’s sufficient to have the mindless evil of terrorism. We’re given even less information about the PTSD villain. We see some of its effects on Kyle, but PTSD is not what this movie was about. I can only give 3 out of 5 Villains for the bad guys in American Sniper.

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