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Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Thoughts On "American Sniper"

Link: Official Site For "American Sniper"

Last Friday my friend Jennifer and I fought the crowds to see Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" on opening night.  I had no preconceived notions about the film.  I met Chris Kyle a few times.  I used to wear a Cowboys baseball cap and he would call me "Tex" whenever I was around.  Chris was about as Texas as you could get.  I can make that claim without really knowing the man.  I can tell you a few other things as well; I may have been a virtual stranger to Chris but you can be guaranteed everything I say is Gospel truth.  Chris Kyle was a kind, decent man.  He wasn't loud or obnoxious, and he carried that "Texas Gentleman" attitude everywhere he went.  He believed one-hundred percent that his job, and my job, were necessary as part of the effort to deny the enemy any rest.  The few times that I saw Kyle, I had no idea that he was highly decorated sniper, and it was apparent that he preferred it that way.  If he was guilty of anything, it would be of having too much pride.  Not personal pride, mind you, but pride in his country, and in Texas.  Even more so, he was proud of his kids and his amazing wife.  I don't respect Chris Kyle for doing his job anymore than I would the next guy.  But I respect and admire him for doing it without complaint.  It's a job that I couldn't do.  I admit that without hesitation.  I don't have the mountain of faith that Chris kept in his back pocket.  I'm a bit jealous of Chris Kyle, I admit it.  Who wouldn't want to have that lovely family, those beautiful kids and a wife as true as sunshine is warm.  But I'm most jealous of his faith and the strength of his relationship with his Maker.  I know Chris had that conversation with God, that gave him his piece of mind and ramrod faith. Chris understood that he was servant of God and a servant of the good on this planet, because he single-handedly gave thousands of children their father back.  And how many husbands came home from Iraq because of Chris' dedication and gift?  How many mothers were able to hug their children JUST ONE MORE TIME, just like they had asked God in their prayers, "please Lord, let my child come home, just one more time, please...."

The film itself was sensational in all the predictable ways.  I remember looking over at Jennifer and expressing wonder at the landscape of Baghdad from above Sadr City.  Is it possible that they filmed on-site, I asked Jennifer?  Much like the film "The Hurt Locker", the makers of this movie recreated Iraq and Baghdad as if the entire theater had been transported to Karadah.  And the combat scenes were terrifying.  Clint Eastwood pulled out all the stops when it came to emotional segments, both stateside and in Iraq.  In one scene, a woman gives a "potato masher" hand-grenade to a young boy, and he starts walking towards the unsuspecting U.S. patrol.  Kyle had to decide if this boy was going to throw the grenade.  I can say without hesitation that I would have assumed that the boy was actually trying to get rid of the weapon as opposed to using it. My mind created a scenario in which his mother didn't like her husband keeping the grenade at home because it was dangerous, and the thing to do is to give it to the soldiers.  Kyle had his decision; I would have made mine, as we all would have in the same circumstance.  This movie is full of moments that require you to ask yourself that difficult question, "what would I have done"?  I spent enough time in Baghdad to say that this movie really brought everything back to life.  As we were leaving the theater, I could see a number of veterans in the crowd that was filing out of the building, some with stone-cold frozen expressions and others wiping their eyes.  Psychologically, emotionally, Iraq and Afghanistan are the Vietnam of this generation, although soldiers today are much more prepared for combat than the eighteen-yr. old draftees were then.  The movie does a nice job of introducing us to Taya, Chris' future wife, and the happy times before the war.  The movie is broken into segments: first tour, second tour, third tour, fourth tour.  During each tour, we get a glimpse of what Kyle was charged to do: finding and killing the enemy before they take the lives of his comrades, his fellow soldiers, his brothers.  And on each return home, its obvious that he has left a part of himself behind, in Iraq.  Poor Taya has no idea what to do, as each time her husband returns, he seems to be more and more of a stranger.  Can you imagine the thousands of wives who had to struggle through very similar situations?

I have one serious criticism of the film.  We expended a great deal of time and emotion as Chris' and Taya's struggle with his Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) played out on the screen.  We had a bit of a climax after the fourth tour, then a short conversation with a PTSD specialist (I assume. . . he popped up and vacated the scene quicker than a popcorn fart), and Chris seemed to be cured.  I understand the message, that Chris was able to channel his struggles with PTSD into something positive, a way to help his fellow soldiers as they rebuild their lives stateside.  No doubt Chris was all about his duty to his fellow troops.  Chris explained that he felt a terrible guilt for not being in Iraq, and continuing his obligation to help his brothers.  Thankfully, Chris discovered a way to help fellow veterans of Iraq, especially wounded warriors and those with serious PTSD issues.  Many times they really needed someone to listen, and Chris was that guy.  On occasion they would go target shooting, which allowed Chris the opportunity to share his natural gift.  I didn't feel that the film paid enough attention to the issue of PTSD.  Kyle returned home after his fourth tour, was a complete mess, spoke with a specialist, and in all of five minutes the movie cleared up the PTSD issue that we had watched grow over the first one and a half hours of the film.  I'm sure it wasn't that easy for Chris, or anyone who suffers from PTSD.  Given the absolutely gut-wrenching manner in which this saga ended, I left the theater feeling that the average movie-goer needed to know more about the condition.  I think the movie was overloaded with external combat scenes in Iraq, and did not have a requisite number of internal combat scenes stateside, as Chris went through therapy, or some form of treatment (or someone did).  The audience was dealing with the issue of PTSD almost from the beginning, although it wasn't identified.  We watched the buildup of the illness in Chris Kyle for the better part of the film.  The resolution was too quick.  As for the heartbreaking end, I think it was handled beautifully, although if my memory serves me correct, as the funeral procession headed down I-35, there was an equal number of Lone Star State flags as there was Old Glory.

God Bless Chris Kyle; my life may have been one of the many he saved.   

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