The Clint Eastwood directed movie American Sniper depicts the life of Chris Kyle whose 160 confirmed kills over four tours of Iraq grant him the title of the ‘most lethal sniper in US military history’, with Bradley Cooper playing Kyle. Despite the inevitable exaggeration of scenarios that may have occurred as a result of the dramatization of this work, American Sniper gives the impression that it is only loosely based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle due to the movie’s exacerbation of both the intensity of emotions and even the nature of military confrontations. It is questionable therefore, whether the movie would gross a whopping $105 million on its opening weekend as well as six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper, if based on the sentiments of Chris Kyle as conveyed through the text.

Although this may be attributed to the jumpy pacing which abruptly juxtaposes scenes of home life with military life, or perhaps the scriptwriter’s intention to draw a sense of nobility to Chris Kyle’s reasons to join the war; the film suggests that Kyle had joined the war in response to 9/11.This ultimately depicts Kyle as making a decision on moral grounds which inevitably yields the audiences’ unquestionable support for his actions, making him the heroic protagonist who intends to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The movie cuts from Kyle watching footage of the attacks on TV to him serving in Iraq, implying there is some link between the two events. However, Chris Kyle had actually joined the war for different reasons. He become a ranch hand to pay the bills, after partying with rodeo groupies drained his income. During this time, he approached the recruitment office to enlist—not, as the movie suggests, because he witnessed American lives lost on the news, but because he had always intended to join the military following school.

A further aspect which seems to be highly exaggerated are the roles of the antagonists, named ‘Mustafa’ and ‘The Butcher’. In the film, Kyle’s primary antagonist is a sniper named Mustafa who is given no backstory, family, or surname and remains more or less anonymous; although he is presented as being a Syrian Olympic medallist ‘hitting head shots from 500 yards out’ – making him all the more deadly. Not only is Mustafa depicted as fighting for both Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and the Shia Mahdi army, but he is also shown to have killed Kyle’s friend Ryan Job whom Kyle is looking to avenge, and does so in the film by killing Mustafa with his legendary longest shot of 2,100 yards.

In truth, these three instances of defeating his sniper, avenging Job, and achieving his longest successful shot – did not occur in one moment. Firstly, Mustafa is only mentioned in a single paragraph of Kyle’s memoir. Secondly, Kyle’s longest shot occurred when he targeted a roof-bound enemy insurgent aiming a rocket launcher at American troops outside Sadr City.

The other so-called villain in the movie is The Butcher – a militant whom Kyle seeks out. In one scene, they clear houses searching for Intel and find a family who refuses to speak out of fear of violent retribution. However, they give the sailors his name, and later we see The Butcher brutally kill this man and his child as Americans attempt to save them. This horrible anecdote is absent from Kyle’s memoir, and The Butcher is not mentioned at all, though some suggest his origins lie in real-life Shia warlord Abu Deraa.

Several scenes in the film portray Chris Kyle as tormented by his actions in service. However, that torment is completely absent from the memoir which the film is based on. In the memoir, Kyle refers to the Iraqis he fought as ‘savage [and] despicable’ evil which does not suggest that he felt remorse when killing them. In fact, Kyle writes in his memoir that ‘I only wish I had killed more’. From what Kyle writes, it is not apparent that he was haunted by his actions as he stated that ‘I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different – if my family didn’t need me – I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL’. These sentiments highly contrast to the scene in which Kyle seems to be suffering from PTSD; hallucinating whilst staring at a blank TV screen.

The film is able to glorify the nature of military life led by Kyle, however this is at the expense of altering or adding to what is actually present in his autobiography. The audience are not shown the perspectives of the Iraqis hence making the messages presented somewhat biased. It is no wonder, therefore, that many share Seth Rogen’s view that ‘American Sniper kind of reminds me of the movie that’s showing in the third act of Inglorious Basterds’, implying that it can give the impression that it has connotations of propaganda.

By Aisha Osman

To Buy: American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History

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