American Sniper

Review: American Sniper

Spoiler Alert – in case you don’t know how Chris Kyle’s story ends, read no further.

Feb. 12, 2013 – My wife and I were on our way from Dallas to our ranch in south Texas when we noticed people lining overpasses, waving American flags and hanging patriotic banners from the bridges. We were driving slightly ahead of the funeral procession for Chris Kyle, which stretched over 200 miles from Midlothian down to Austin. The presence of hundreds of admirers, many from out-of-state, bore poignant testimony to the impact of Kyle’s service to the nation as a Navy SEAL. Reported to be the most lethal sniper in American military history, he was credited for 160 kills (confirmed). The new film by director Clint Eastwood has garnered AA nominations for Bradley Cooper (Best Actor) and for Best Picture.

Performances – Bradley Cooper inhabits the role of Chris Kyle so effectively, that Kyle’s widow, Taya, said in a recent interview that, due to Cooper’s performance and the excellent work by scriptwriter Jason Hall, she felt that, “we had a really authentic film.” Trying to categorize Cooper’s performance is like trying to describe Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. It is so immersive, the viewer forgets every other role he has played, and loses himself in the moments Cooper so brilliantly recreates. Sienna Miller, who plays Kyle’s wife, Taya, is equally impressive as she navigates the minefield of emotions attendant to those whose loved ones serve in the military.

Production values – excellent re-creation of battle sequences make up the bulk of this 132 minute biographical war drama. The movie graphically represents the tensions that rise between Kyle and his bride as a result of his four tours.

My Take – if you are offended by continual, raw, vulgar language, this is definitely not the movie for you. Though Kyle carries a small Bible with him into battle, there is virtually no other reference to God (other than the cursing) in the movie. Of course, it isn’t possible for any 2-hour movie to reveal all there is to be known of a man, and Kyle may well have enjoyed a more vital spiritual life that the movie suggests. The overall impact of the movie is one of vaunting patriotism that is hard-won. Kyle’s enormous sacrifices were, according to the script, made out of gratitude for the USA, and his sense of duty to defend the “greatest country on earth.”

So, I’m torn. This finely directed movie, with such sharply defined characters and realistically rendered sequences, deserves all the plaudits that will surely come its way. And, of course, Kyle himself deserves our deep gratitude for his service. The message of the movie raises questions. Caveat – I offer this opinion as my reading of the movie’s message, and with deep appreciation for Kyle’s service to our country. American Sniper celebrates a life, which gave “the last full measure of devotion” in service to country. Kyle’s allegiance, as he says in the movie was to “God, country, family” – in that order, I believe – though there isn’t anything to suggest a distinction in Kyle’s mind between “God” and “country,” with “family” coming in a distant third. The first two – God and country – meld into a syncretistic jingoism that confuses, to me, at least, a sincere devotion to the USA and service to God.

Our allegiance as Christians must be to the Lord Jesus Christ, first and foremost. We certainly should honor our leaders and obey our government as it is established and sustained by the providence of the Lord, but we must never confuse our devotion to Him with our love of country.

Summary – This isn’t a popcorn movie. It’s designed as a gut punch that leaves you in awe of the power of cinema to evoke a visceral response. And, it invites us all to think – to consider where our ultimate allegiances lie, or should lie. And to emulate the passion and perseverance of Chris Kyle in the pursuit of a higher calling – our service in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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