American Sniper: A Flawed Character Study

Not an honest study of a flawed character.

My expectations were really high for American Sniper given the star, the director, and the outstanding trailer. Bradley Cooper nails it to be sure, but I just found it lacking over all; especially the first half.

Seth Rogen is of course taking a lot of flack from the hive mind over his take on the film, and Michael Moore is an idiot, but the first half was so clichéd that I felt like it was recruitment marketing aimed at rednecks. This was before reading any reviews or comments about the movie, mind you.

Now, if that’s the story, then that’s the story. It is supposed to be based on a real one, and the movie becomes more compelling as we start to see the stress and the job take its toll on the protagonist and his family.

American Sniper, Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper

Bearded Instrument of War

When evaluating the movie and not the controversial subject matter, there are some big problems structurally. Poorly edited, poorly paced at times, and most surprisingly for an Eastwood film, some scenes were poorly shot. If not for Bradley Cooper’s performance, American Sniper would likely have flopped.

Then you look at Chris Kyle himself. It sounds like he may have been a hero, certainly to the men he was deployed with in the very least.

He was also a narcissist with delusions of grandeur.

Taking only second-hand sources into account, he was very accomplished with skill and bravery to be revered, but given some of the outrageous lies he told about his deeds he must not have felt like it was enough. This actually makes him a much more interesting character, with a lot more depth to explore.

I am not going to pretend that I know all there is to know about Chief Petty Officer Kyle, and I obviously cannot say that I knew him personally, but he made himself into a public figure before his death. Naturally by doing so he opened himself up to the public scrutiny that accompanies that. Under that scrutiny it was proven* that some of his wildest stories were only just stories.

They were lies.

Kyle did not gun down assailants in a gas station parking lot, just like he did not set up on top of the Superdome and hunt looters in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. These non-events didn’t make the big screen version of Kyle’s story because they did not fit the narrative, and likely because some support for the project would have been lost—namely that of Mrs. Kyle and image conscious republicans.

Perhaps the rights to his story came with restrictions, but what a missed opportunity to examine the different facets of an extraordinary, but deeply flawed man. Unfortunately most can only see Chris Kyle in black and white; either he was an infallible hero of great accomplishment and integrity, or he was a sociopath with a license to kill.

Neither interpretation represents the basis of a character study of this man. He stated in an interview that he is just a man, and he deserves to be evaluated as such.

The filmmakers have even come out and said American Sniper is not a movie about the war, but a movie about a man. A character study; but an important part of the character was left out to create a more palatable product.

*I understand that lacking any proof does not necessarily equate to being disproven, but some claims just do not hold up to logic without any evidence.