American Sniper

amsnFirst things first.

My grandfather recently passed away and the only part of the ceremony that unmastered my mastery of my emotions was when the two American Soldiers folded up the American Flag and presented it to my father.

My father, who received that folded flag with equally unmastered emotions, spent two years in Iraq as a private contractor delivering mail to United States Marines in armored tractor trailers. Twice his truck was hit by IED’s. The last time, the truck was destroyed. The convoy continued on without my father as dictated by their orders. “Insurgents” began pelting the truck with gunfire. The reinforced windshield was cracking. Those Marines, for whom my father was JUST delivering mail, came back and saved him. Those Marines are personal Heroes to me… forever.

I have never been able to think about [or write about] the passengers aboard United Flight 93 without also losing mastery of my emotions. I declined to see the Oliver Stone Movie about them because I want them undisturbed in my mind. There is a kind of courage in what they did that ought not be the subject of profit.

I point all this out because the debate about this movie is running aground on the idea of Patriotism. If you don’t support this movie then you don’t like the military, and you’re not a Good American.

At this point my human nature wants me to hurl a bunch of insults at The Sarah Palin’s of the world for being so disastrously short-sighted. I could rake Sarah Palin over the coals of her flimsy argumentation and make her look very stupid.

I decline to do that. BECAUSE I believe Good American’s engage in discourse over name calling. Sarah Palin could learn a thing or two from my MOST American example.

Instead, I will point out that Soldiers have been so revered in my family that is literally impossible for me not to value their sacrifices. The fact that I think American Sniper treats the war in Iraq with a five year old’s understanding of morality DOES NOT MAKE ME UnAmerican; it does not mean that I think Soldiers are bad. It simply means I think the Message of American Sniper is bad. I will now present that case, systematically.

The number one scene which disturbed my pride in being an American comes on page 76:

OUT BACK

Wind rattles reeds along the river. ASIAN and DAUBER
guard a Suzuki Samurai with TWO DEAD INSURGENTS inside.

ASIAN
Tight Samurai, huh?

DAUBER
Butcher rides in style.

Chris checks the driver, nope. He circles to the
passenger, unwraps a keffiyeh, shines a light on him.

CHRIS
It ain’t him.

ASIAN
How can you tell? They all look alike.

MARC LEE
What do you want to do?

Chris is staring at the two dead men.

EXT. COURTYARD – MOMENTS LATER
Everyone in the courtyard hears the INTERROGATION INSIDE:

CHRIS (OS)
–you’re going to tell me where he is, or
I’m going to put a bullet in your head–

TERP TRANSLATES(OS), jabbering away when–

CHRIS (OS) (CONT’D)
Fuck it–

BAM! A single shot. INSURGENTS panic.

SQUIRREL
This op’ just went southbound.

CHRIS KYLE
(storms out, shadow looming)
Who’s next?

“D”
How bout Mr. Pizza face here.

Chris calmly drags MR. PIZZA FACE inside.

INSIDE

MR. PIZZA FACE is on his knees next to THE BODY.

CHRIS
I want to know where the Butcher is.

TERP REPEATS his question. PIZZA FACE begs for mercy.

CHRIS (CONT’D)
Was he here? Where do I find him!

COURTYARD
INSURGENTS are silent. Some mutter prayers.

INSIDE (SIDE-VIEW)
Chris raises the gun to the back of MR. PIZZA FACES head.

CHRIS (CONT’D)
Fuck you, moving on–

BLAM! He fires. The body crumbles forward. But no blood.
He fell from shock. BIGGLES gags him, removes his jacket–
They drag him out and pull in dead body of SAMURAI GUY #2
(two bodies on the floor match the two shots fired).

COURTYARD
Chris barrels out, gun in hand.

CHRIS (CONT’D)
Next.

“D”
How ‘bout Poopy Pants here?

Chris looks past the man who shat himself to AN INSURGENT
staring at the ground with eyes like BLACK OPALS.

INSIDE
CHRIS drags BLACK OPALS to the face-down bodies.

CHRIS
Where is The Butcher? Where’d they go?

TERP is pleading (throughout). BLACK OPALS is sweating.

BIGGLES
He’s trying to help you! Where’s the fallback
spot?

CHRIS
Where is he you fucking savage!

Chris throttles him, a vicious blow to the jaw.

CHRIS (CONT’D)
I can go all night.

CHRIS holds his .45 to the back of the man’s head. The
look in his eyes has changed. This time it’s real.

CHRIS (CONT’D)
I’ll kill every one of you–

MARC LEE
Chris–

CHRIS
I need another body.

BIGGLES
Smoke him, man. Smoke his ass–

MARC LEE
What’re you doing?

CHRIS
Where is The Butcher!

The TERP SCREAMING translations.

CHRIS (CONT’D)
You ready die for him! Are you!

MARC LEE
It’s not worth it, man–

BIGGLES
He knows man. He fucking knows–

Chris stroking the trigger–

CHRIS
Last chance–

BIGGLES
Do it! Burn him. Do it–

The hammer suspended–

MARC LEE
Chris! No–

CHRIS
Burn in hell–

He turns his face to avoid the splatter–

BLACK OPAL
Fahima Halal! Fahima Halal.

First of all, I had to read this NINE times before I realized [and I’m still not positive] that Chris didn’t just murder somebody. I think he used one of the dead bodies from the Samurai to scare Pizza Face into giving up the information about The Butcher.

But [even if this isn’t murder] it’s still about 9000 miles from anything that any normal person would consider heroic. I can’t imagine wishing for my son to grow up and get a half a breath away from shooting a defenseless person in the back of the head. In actual point of fact, I will disown my son if he ever grows up and points a gun into the back of a defenseless person’s head. Period.

I’ll not tolerate the “Dick Cheney” defense either. You don’t save any lives by putting guns to the back of people’s heads. You choose the world you want your kids to live in. I, personally, would much rather know I lost a fight but did not resort to “cheating” to win, than know I won because I abdicated my humanity—that I had abdicated my American adherence to justice and the rule of law.

If the only way to protect innocent people is to Murder someone or threaten to murder someone, our world is lost. The Human Experiment was a colossal misuse of resources.

On top of this, we have Chris [with historical accuracy, apparently] referring to the insurgents as savages. If there were irony in this, I would be okay with it. If this were the author’s attempt at showing the savagery of a man pointing a gun at the back of a defenseless man’s head, WHILE calling that defenseless man a savage, I would celebrate the skill of the author. It’s not. It is transcription from a five year old moralist who thinks he is doing god’s work.

Don’t misinterpret that either; I have no patience for the insurgents. You do not change the world by killing innocent people. I don’t like extremists no matter their flavor. And to quote Sean Hannity [for the one and only time he will be quoted on this blog] “there is evil in the world” which has to be acknowledged. I simply believe that you don’t stoop to the level of the evil you find. Pointing a gun to the back of a defenseless man’s head and coming within a half breath of murdering him, is not an effective means of opposing evil.

It is okay in a movie like The Equalizer, where I noted that its theme was to oppose Evil with the force necessary to end it, but not in a movie that purports to be a record of what happened in a War. Even in The Equalizer, I mentioned that the film collaborators were on shaky ground with their reckless moralizing. I said this because [as noted in that review] I also believe that Art makes Life. The propositions become irresponsible when they are no longer make believe.

My agitation with this script did not end there. We also have these lines, JUST THREE PAGES later, on pg. 79:

BIGGLES (CONT’D)
Next time a girl asks what turns me on–

CHRIS
Next time’ll be the first time.

BIGGLES
(turns face to rain)
I’ll say, war baby. War gives me wood.

Biggles is one of two main characters [on the American Side] who dies during this film. His death is meant to be some kind of emotional sucker punch to the audience. I want to ask: Are these authors serious? I’m supposed to feel bad for a guy who “gets wood” when he kills people?

In fairness, I hate all war quotes, even Lee’s:

“It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”

Cold Mountain, a book [and movie] that I did not grow too fond of, nevertheless did an excellent job of obliterating that quote.

Beside Robert E. Lee, we can now throw in Biggles:

“War gives me wood.”

That is just aberrant to a degree that leaves me speechless. If the man actually said those words then he was aberrant too. If the screenwriter’s MADE IT UP, then they should feel such shame that they have it redacted from all future drafts that circulate online. If Clint Eastwood allowed it to remain in the finished product, then please, PLEASE, hope that he does not win an Oscar. That line is repulsive.

Without a doubt however, my least favorite scene in this script comes on page 116:

A YOUNG KID

No older than Colton. He grabs the RPG, shoulders it.
CROSS-HAIRS zero on him, center-mass. SFX: Chris’
heartbeat bangs like a 800lb hammer. Not again.

CHRIS (OC)
Don’t do it–
OUR CROSS-HAIRS tremor as Chris’ hands start to shake.

CHRIS (OC) (CONT’D)
–please God–

Young Kid stands, takes aims and– he suddenly discards
the RPG in the street and runs off.

CHRIS

He rolls off the gun, gasping for air, biting back tears.
After years and years of war he’s finally breaking down.

Especially when combined with this from the opening of the script:

CHRIS KYLE (CONT’D)
She just pulled a grenade. An RKG Russian
grenade. I think she gave it to the kid.

COMMANDING OFFICER (OS)
–you say a woman and kid?

SFX: his heart-beat, THUMP-THUMP THUMP-THUMP THUMP-THUMP.

CHRIS KYLE
You got eyes on this? Can you confirm?

COMMANDING OFFICER (OS)
Negative. You know the ROEs. Your call.

GOAT (OC)
They’re gonna fry you if you’re wrong.

THE KID moves toward the convoy with the grenade.

CHRIS KYLE (OC)
Fuck–

MOTHER motions the Kid to hurry along (ECU)– her robes
flutter, trash blows in the street, the dust off her
son’s footsteps; all blowing the same direction.

THE KID sprints toward the Marines.

IN THE STREET

YOUNG MARINES. Wading into war. Boots scuffing dirt.

CLOSE ON CHRIS
His exhale hisses from tobacco-stained teeth. Breathe it
down. He struggles to get calm, fighting for control,

SFX: THUMP-THUMP THUMP-THUMP THUMP–

CROSS-HAIRS left of the running target, leading him,
compensating for a dozen different considerations as–
He pauses upon exhale. The world goes quiet. Landscape
pulses with color and focus. He stokes the trigger and–

A scene which remains paused until the resolution comes on page 36 [note the scene is prefaced with a direction to the reader that we are back at the beginning]:

THE KID sprints toward the Marines.

IN THE STREET

YOUNG MARINES. Wading into war. Boots scuffing dirt.

His eyes water with focus, his exhale hisses from tobaccostained
teeth. Breathe it down. He struggles to get calm.

SFX: THUMP-THUMP THUMP-THUMP THUMP–

CROSS-HAIRS left of the running target, leading him,
compensating for a dozen different considerations as–
He pauses upon exhale. The world goes quiet. Landscape
pulses with color and focus. He stokes the trigger and–

THE BULLET

Leaps from the barrel. Cracks like a whip. The .300 round
hurls forward, glinting as it enters the flesh of–

CLOSE ON CHRIS

He winces, sickened by his first kill. He struggles to
swallow the little piece of him that just died.

So the movie begins with Chris getting his first “kill”. The bullet not only kills a CHILD, it also takes “a little piece” of Chris along with the child [excuse me while I puke for a moment]. The ROE’s [rules of engagement] are clear and according to those “rules” of war killing the child was acceptable. [One wonders why there are wars in which Men can justifiably kill Children, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. One is also forced to say that those ROE’s DO NOT ALLOW for pointing a gun to the back of a defenseless person’s head while threatening to murder him. One then meanders in one’s mind for a moment, and wonders what kind of effect a scene depicting breaking the ROE’s, in a movie that is based on a true story, will have the next time an American Soldier is in the same situation, but that is also beyond the scope of this essay.]

The pinch point of this movie, then, is when Chris is almost forced to kill another Child. Divine intervention occurs and delivers Chris from this evil, but [the writers tell us] now Chris is broken.

I hate, hate, hate, this plot framing device. You DO NOT ever have the right, as an artist, to use the death [and almost death] of Children, as a means of making your character arc. If this was in the five year old Moralist’s memoir, then [as an artist] don’t use it. To the screenwriter’s and to Mr. Clint Eastwood: how do I take my ten year old son to see this movie which tells him CHILDREN are Bad Guys? How do I do that? [Read that as a hypothetical. Clearly I am not going to see this movie and neither is my son. But, I’m sure, some ten year old boys will see it. I have no idea how you explain this sequence to a ten year old—even considering it was written by an ethical five year old.]

Before I leave this script, I have one more thing to say. The following symbolism begun on page 5:

WAYNE KYLE (PRE-LAP)
There are three types of people in this
world. Sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.

WAYNE KYLE (VO)
Some people prefer to believe that evil
doesn’t exist in the world—

WAYNE KYLE
And if hatred ever darkened their
doorstep they wouldn’t know how to
protect themselves. These are the sheep.

WAYNE KYLE (VO)
Then you got the predators. These people
use violence to prey on the weak. They
are the wolves.

WAYNE KYLE (VO) (CONT’D)
Then there are those who are blessed with
the gift of aggression and an
overpowering need to protect the flock.

WAYNE KYLE (VO) (CONT’D)
These men are the rare breed that live to
confront the wolf—

is such an ethically naïve way of thinking that it, literally, hurts my brain. It shows a stunning lack of understanding of humanity. It says there are weak people, bad killers, and good killers. I’m sorry, but I abdicate my humanity RIGHT NOW if that is all we are as a species. Even as a metaphor, it is painfully misguided. There are not wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs, and that is it. At the very least, I would expect a bible carrying Moralist to know THAT metaphor is not complete.

There are also motherfucking shepherds, you jackass. (1)


Footnote:

1 I am sorry to resort to one instance of name calling. The error in the metaphor is so egregious, I could not contain myself.

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6 responses to “American Sniper

    • Before I posted the article, I did a search of American Sniper on twitter and, honestly, it’s pretty depressing. There are a lot of things I left off the table [in the presence] of this review, and twitter is full of all of them.

      We made this world in which Kid Rock’s views on the war in Iraq are the most “popular”.

      The wolves, apparently, wear Kid Rock’s clothes.

    • It is hard to read about threats like these. I want so much for people to use their brains for something other than invective. If you don’t like something argue against it, and prove why it is defective.

      Also, when I take my own temperature, I find that I could out Herod, Herod. If I believed in invective, I could find a platform. I would show the Sean Hannity’s, Kid Rock’s, Clint Eastwood’s, and Superman’s of the world what invective looks like when it takes the form of a powerful argument.

      My real problem with invective is that people don’t take responsibility for what they produce. The reason my dad ended up in that situation in Iraq is because he was a devout follower of Sean Hannity. Had my dad actually died in that exploded truck in Iraq, my feeling about Platforms might be different.

  1. This is a profoundly humiliating moment for our country. We mount an illegal invasion, make a complete hash of it, and then retreat to the comfort of wholly dishonest hagiography. No country has ever recovered its moral authority once it has been lost.

    • “No country has ever recovered its moral authority once it has been lost.”

      Wouldn’t it be great if Artists were able to do this?

      Politicians have become so ensconced in ideology, they are now useless as governing agents. The News is no longer the news, but intellectual Ideology pornography selling itself as news. Nixon’s silent majority is now screaming at maximum volume– in the language of ideology.

      The reason American Sniper disappointed this “hollywood leftist” is because Movies are [in my often stated opinion] the most powerful medium ever given to storytelling. People fortunate enough to get to make movies [especially at age 85] ought to realize they hold social change in their hands. They ought to realize this is a gift. They ought to be required to treat this gift as if it were lightning in a bottle.

      If you don’t use the Platform society gives you to make the world better, you are morally worse than those who do nothing at all.

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