"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle Part Two : The Reaction

"To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction." - Sir Isaac Newton

**Estimated Reading Time: 22 Minutes**

On August 3, 2014, in the wake of the defamation verdict in favor of Jesse Ventura against the late Navy SEAL and "American Sniper" author, Chris Kyle, I wrote an article titled "Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle". Since the release of the film American Sniper on Dec. 25, 2014, and its incredible success, my article has received a significant spike in readers and has gotten some attention from news outlets as well. Due to this, I thought it might be of interest to share some of the reactions to the piece and my further thoughts on it.

First, I want to thank all of the people who read the article. I am well aware that it is considered "long" by many, and "too long" by some, so thank you for putting in the time and effort to read it. And thank you very much to all of those who took the additional time to comment, especially those who diligently and effectively defended me against critical attacks by other commenters. I would even like to thank those who were not fans of the piece (or me) for taking an interest and sharing your perspectives in the comment section. I also would like to thank all the folks who emailed me with encouraging words of support. It meant a great deal and I truly appreciate it. And, while I am at it, I'd also like to thank those people who took the time to write to me and vent, rage and spew vitriol upon me.  Even though your thoughts carry the intellectual heft of a bumper sticker, I am glad to have been of service to you, and consider your anger to be a sign of you being just another satisfied customer.

As I mentioned, the article has been well received by some, and not so well received by others. The comments section in and of itself is a pretty fascinating petri dish of people's thinking, or 'not-thinking' as the case may be. As I said to close the original piece, this is a topic that gets emotions running pretty high, and sure enough there have been a lot of emotional responses to it, both in the comments section and by email. I strongly encourage you to go and read the comments section in it's entirety to get a taste of what I am talking about. As commenter John Cramer wrote, 

I love how the comments section is a complete mirror to your post Michael. It points out clearly the point you were trying to make about humans, beliefs, cognitive dissonance, Manichean philosophy, and truth. Your piece is amazing, thought provoking and informative; but it reaches a next level meta spectacular when you read the comments sections. Well done sir!

Well said, John, "next level meta spectacular" indeed. The comments section in many ways proves the exact point I was trying to make in the piece.

 The Media Reaction or: How in the Land of the Blind, The One-Eyed Man is King

The mainstream media has, for the most part, been right on schedule with it's uselessness on this subject. Here is a clip from the NBC Nightly News (ironically enough hosted by fantasist Brian Williams) about the film American Sniper. It is just the worst, most insidious kind of unthinking propaganda. A puff-piece through and through. Notice how they never even mention the defamation suit or the verdict against Chris Kyle, which are pretty important facts.

No offense to Mrs. Kyle, but to say Chris Kyle never sought attention when he wrote a book about himself in which he declares himself to be the "Most Lethal Sniper In US Military History" and then sold it to a movie studio, is a bit tough to swallow. It is even harder to swallow when you call that humility. What that really is...is false humility.

Speaking of propaganda, Fox News personality Sean Hannity recently dedicated an entire episode of his show "Hannity" to the topic of the film, he titled it "American Sniper: Patriotism Under Fire", not to be confused with the version on his website titled, "American Sniper: Patriotism Under Attack". I shit you not. The tv show was an hour long infomercial for a film which had already made over $200 million in just a few weeks in wide release (it is now past $300 million). Thank God Sean Hannity is there to defend 'patriotism' when it is under such brutal attack by evil hordes of green-eyed dead presidents. If my memory serves me, I believe Hannity has already been awarded a much deserved American Flag lapel pin for his bravery in action during the hellacious "War on Christmas", I am sure his heroic efforts in defense of 'patriotism' during this 'money attack' will be similarly rewarded.

There is one notable exception though to the endless mainstream media blindness. I am not on Twitter, but someone emailed me this tweet from CNN host Michael Smerconish from January 23, 2015. 

"I've seen and enjoyed American Sniper and now I've read this (A link to my article http://mpmacting.com/blog/2014/7/19/truth-justice-and-the-curious-case-of-chris-kyle) - I recommend people do both."

The day after Smerconish tweeted my article, he went on his tv show, and without any mention of my piece, used it to absolutely obliterate Chris Kyle's co-writer on the book "American Sniper", Jim DeFelice. Please watch this video (the relevant section is the first 6 Minutes and 15 seconds)

Notice how DeFelice is expecting this to be another patty-cake interview and puff piece, but Smerconish has something else in mind. Smerconish did what every single journalist out there should have been doing from day one of this story. While Smerconish may not have credited my article on air, he obviously used it to bludgeon DeFelice, and I tip my cap to him for doing an outstanding job in this interview. Just as Smerconish used my article as a blueprint to eviscerate DeFelice, other tv "journalists" should use Smerconish's interview as a blueprint to bring the truth about the Ventura court case and Chris Kyle, to the American public. Smerconish was respectful but firm, thoughtful yet persistent. I was not aware of Smerconish prior to seeing this, but having watched that interview, I now know he is a powerful interviewer and potential forceful voice for truth, and I hope he continues to be loyal to Truth above all else.

Common False Beliefs About the Ventura Court Case

Some people who commented or emailed were uninformed about the very basics of the Ventura lawsuit, but that didn't stop them from thinking they were very well informed. The National Review Online had a great rundown of things which I linked to in the original piece, and strongly encouraged you to read it, and I do so again here.  LINK . Here are some other things that people were adamant were true but simply aren't.

  1. Ventura waited until Kyle was dead before ever filing the lawsuit and did so against Kyle's widow or, Ventura refiled the lawsuit against Taya Kyle (Chris Kyle's widow) after Chris Kyle was killed. WRONG. Kyle was killed well after the lawsuit was filed and when he died his estate automatically became the defendant in the case. Taya Kyle is the executor of the Chris Kyle estate.
  2. Ventura was the first to out himself as being the person named 'scruff-face' in the book "American Sniper". WRONG. Chris Kyle named Ventura as 'Scruff-face' on the Opie and Anthony Sirius radio show and the O'Reilly Factor on Fox News Channel.   
  3. There is video of Chris Kyle punching Ventura. WRONG. Ummm…no…obviously there isn't any video.  
  4. The defamation verdict did not decide whether or not Ventura was punched, only if his reputation was harmed by the story. WRONG. If Kyle actually hit Ventura, then telling the story is not defamation (or slander or libel). The truth is a defense against defamation/slander/libel charges. So, yes, the jury decided they didn't believe Chris Kyle about the fight he claimed occurred.  The damages awarded Ventura are not entirely a result of the punching story being false, but are also due to the statements attributed to Ventura by Kyle that were also deemed to be false.
  5. Kyle never got a chance to defend himself. WRONG. Kyle videotaped a deposition a year before he was killed. According to reports, this deposition was very damaging to his case since Kyle had a hard time keep his story straight. Star tribune story link.
  6. Ventura just wanted a pay day. WRONG. Ventura was very clear early on that he just wanted the story retracted. Chris Kyle and the publishers offered to pay Ventura to drop the suit, but Ventura refused, demanding an apology instead. Kyle declined and the case proceeded. Ventura then had to pay his attorney fees, which are substantial, out of his own pocket.

Carjacking Story 

Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell

Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell

The carjacking story is one that has gotten a lot of attention for obvious reasons. It is a story that is pretty easy to check on considering law enforcement was allegedly called and there were two dead bodies and the paper trail you would expect to find when those two things are involved. Some have commented that the story is just hearsay and that there is no proof that Chris ever said it. Well, Michael Mooney at D Magazine 'confirmed' that Chris told him that story, of course some have interpreted Mooney's "confirming" the story to mean that it is "confirmed" to be true. It isn't, it is only "confirmed" that Chris Kyle was telling this carjacking story. Marcus Lutrell, another highly decorated and famous Navy SEAL, put the carjacking story in one of his books and said it came from Chris Kyle. So if you think Chris Kyle never claimed to have killed two carjackers, then you think Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell is a liar. Some people's heads may explode if the only choice they have is to decide which one of those two Navy SEALs is lying.

The New York Times and WMD

There were many commenters who were critical of my questioning Chris Kyle's claim to have discovered WMDs in Iraq. Many linked to a New York Times article that came out on October 14, 2014 (nearly three months after I wrote the original piece). As was almost always the case, other commenters quickly and ardently pushed back against these claims of vindication by those that believe the Kyle story regarding his discovery of barrels of wmd's and the Bush rationalization for going to war with Iraq. Commenter James Aragon (an Iraq war veteran) wrote in reply to another commenter who asked if I would be editing my article based on the NY Times story,

The most relevant point in the NYT piece is here:
The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.
Key in on the 'remnants of long-abandoned programs.' These incidents were (not) hidden to hide an active WMD program, but to shelter the lack of intelligence we had on these sites.

Another commenter, Eric A. Smith, got even more specific in his counter argument with someone who used the NY Times piece to claim that WMDs were found.

...although there were a few spent rounds and canisters which had been aged beyond usefulness, these weren't stocks the Iraqis were holding back. They had been forgotten.
Do you want to know why the Bush clan - and especially Rumsfeld - were so certain that Hussein must have had some WMD stocks left over?
Because they gave them to him. And Rumsfeld personally brokered the deal. What's more, I've got the proof. Read it here: http://aliberaldose.blogspot.jp/2006/02/how-we-came-to-own-iraq-repost.html
The UN inspectors did a damned thorough job of destroying anything that could have been of use to him though. The Bush clan knew without a shadow of a doubt that not only was Hussein not even the tiniest threat to the US, he couldn't even threaten the countries neighboring Iraq. How do I know? Powell told me. So did Rice. They told you too, but I bet you weren't paying attention. But here, they'll tell you again, so you can have no doubt whatsoever that Bush Jr. and his bumbling gang of psychotics invaded Iraq KNOWING 100% THAT HUSSEIN COULDN'T ATTACK ANYONE, INCLUDING AND SPECIFICALLY US: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-cl=84411374&x-yt-ts=1421828030&v=hN-HTjy-w
You were duped man. Played for a sucker. Cheney and Rumsfeld have been doing it since the Nixon era, when they started the Cold War: 
http://www.margieburns.com/2011/09/re-post-rumsfeld-and-cheney-pressured-cia-to-mislead-congress-in-the-1970s-too/
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This whole debate feels so 2002-2003. What struck me about the use of this New York Times article as proof of Kyle's claims was that it seems as though the people linking to it have not actually read all of it. The New York Times article actually further undermines the very specific claim by Chris Kyle that "At another location, we found barrels of chemical material that was intended for use as biochemical weapons." The Times piece never once mentions any "barrels of chemical material" being found. It does mention that degrading and degraded munitions from the Iran-Iraq war from the 1980's were found though, which is a very significant difference from what Kyle describes. These now-degraded weapons were procured by Iraq in the 1980's while they were a client state of the U.S. and a proxy for America in the war against Iran. The Bush administration kept the discovery of these degraded weapons a secret not because, as Chris Kyle speculated about his alleged barrel find, it would embarrass the French and Germans, but rather because it would embarrass not only the United States, but the people who were serving in high levels of the government in the U.S. at the time Iraq procured the weapons in the 1980's and also at the time the U.S. invaded in 2003.

Another commenter stated that Iraq had used gas on its own people, the Kurds, and offered this as proof that they had chemical weapons in 2003. While it is true that a genocidal attack on the Kurds by Iraq with chemical weapons did occur, it happened on March 16, 1988, again, while Iraq was a client state of the United States of America. The weapons were dropped from U.S. made helicopters, using U.S. intelligence information gathered by U.S. intelligence and military assets.

There was a joke going around in the debate leading up to the 2003 Iraq invasion that went something like this, "How do we know that Saddam has chemical weapons? Because we kept the receipts when we sold them to him." That joke only has a chance to be funny if you're not a Kurd or someone who had to go fight in that awful war. 

The United Nations Inspectors, The Iraq Survey Group and finally the Bush administration itself, have all declared that there was no active weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq post-1991. Here is a solid rundown that dismantles the  'wmd dead-enders' and their claims of vindication for Bush and company. LINK .

"You Didn't Prove He Lied"

I got some comments and a few emails from people who made the argument that I "didn't prove that Kyle had lied". Along the same lines I got some comments/emails saying that "I wasn't there so I couldn't know what happened" and should "keep my opinion to myself". Or that I wasn't a Navy SEAL so I should just "Shut.The.Fuck.Up." A commenter, J.R. MacDonald, took this line of thinking head on when another commenter claimed I "failed to prove Chris Kyle's stories were lies" and then said I was a "coward who hides behind his keyboard", Mr. MacDonald answered this charge better than I could ever hope to, so I quote him at length here:

"Failed to prove his stories are lies." Therein lies the problem. Your approach is flawed...You cannot prove a negative. If a complete lack of evidence exists to support a particular claim, logically, one can conclude that the claim is false.
For example. Right now, prove to me that reindeer can't fly. When you come back and cite the complete lack of evidence for flying reindeer, I can easily point out that you just didn't look hard enough, do your research, etc. You can't prove to me that there aren't reindeer flying right now and we just haven't observed them. This is what you've done with Chris Kyle's stories. The proof then, must come from the positive claim. If you want to prove that reindeer fly, it's very simple: Just show me one reindeer flying. The end. There's the proof. But, since there have been zero documented cases of a dang flying reindeer, we can conclude, logically, that reindeer do not fly.
Now... it would be easy to prove Chris Kyle's stories as true. There'd be paper trails, there'd be witnesses, there'd be SOMETHING. But there isn't. There would have been some story somewhere talking about two dead carjackers. There might even be a video of it. But there isn't. Therefore, just like the flying reindeer, we can conclude that they never happened. Ever.
Whether you like it or not, Kyle lied about a number of things, embellished a number of things, but he also DID do a bunch of incredible things. I was in Ramadi in 2006 at the same time as Kyle. The possibility exists that one of the American lives he unquestionably saved was either mine or that of one of my Marines. His service record could have easily spoken for itself, and it's always been my opinion that he should have hired a biographer and let someone else tell his story. The exaggerations could have been filtered out, the lies could have been filtered out, and we'd have been left with just Chris Kyle as best to remember him. He had no need to embellish a single solitary detail. He could have just told the stories exactly as they were and they'd still be incredible. Hell, simply being a SEAL at all with no combat added in is a tremendous accomplishment.
Also, if the author of this blog is a "disgrace" to America, what exactly does that make you? Your basic premise here is, "if you disagree me with me, you're a coward." Is this what being a "good" American is? Is no one allowed to do their own research and come to their own conclusions? Why should Chris Kyle be allowed to make up whatever story he wants and that just be "ok?" Is THAT being a good American? I'm a veteran too... do I get to make up all kinds of stories as well, or is that honor reserved for only certain veterans?

"Confirmed", "Official" and "Officially Confirmed"

The word "confirmed" has been kicked around a lot in regards to this story, and there has been and remains a great deal of confusion in the media over the claim by Chris Kyle that he had 160 confirmed kills in the Iraq war, and what the term "confirmed" actually means. As I stated in the original piece, "confirmed kills" means "kills witnessed by another person besides the shooter". As Chris Kyle himself explains in his book, a "confirmed kill" means you see the person die, not that he is assumed to have died from his wounds at a later time. The confusion starts when media outlets say that the Navy has "confirmed" Kyle's 160 kills. This is untrue as far as I have been able to gather. "Confirmed" is being confused here with "official". A "confirmed kill" is a very specific thing (as stated above), the Navy officially confirming the number of kills Chris Kyle has is another. From what I have been able to ascertain, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of Defense do not keep official "confirmed kill" numbers for individual servicemen. The Navy and Pentagon have not "officially confirmed" Chris Kyle's "confirmed kill" number. I am not saying that his "confirmed kill" number is a lie, I have absolutely no insight into that subject. But as far as I have been able to determine, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense have never commented on Chris Kyle's alleged "confirmed kill" statistic one way or the other. 

Brian Williams, Dead-Enders and the Art of the Bullshit Detector

Brian Williams, the aforementioned anchorman on NBC nightly news, has recently been suspended for six months without pay for telling tall tales about his experience while reporting in Iraq. Personally I think Mr. Williams should be permanently unemployed from this point forward, but as we all know, telling the truth is not exactly a major requirement in order to be a news anchor. Besides the 'Iraq helicopter missile attack' story he told, Williams also told another story that has come under scrutiny, where he claimed he saw a bloated, dead body float by his French Quarter hotel room in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. People have challenged this story because apparently, there was no flooding in the French Quarter during Hurricane Katrina. Maybe, just maybe, we have a 'magic bullet' here which ties together both Williams and Kyle's fabulist Katrina stories. Maybe Williams saw one of the people Chris Kyle sniped from atop the Superdome float by his hotel room. Maybe? That sure would one hell of a story so…IT MUST BE TRUE!! This whole thing begs the question, why is Hurricane Katrina such a flame for moth-like fantasists? I guess it is, pardon the pun, a perfect storm of chaos, lawlessness and public attention that makes it such an easy target for bullshit.

In all seriousness regarding Williams, he is a symptom of a much larger disease. The story he told about his helicopter coming under attack, and the Katrina story, were a way for him to feed his audience the narrative that they demanded. Brian Williams was simply doing what he thought his job was…telling the people what they want to hear. Williams told people a tale, glorifying himself in the process, that people believed because they wanted to believe it. This is the same thing Chris Kyle did in his book and elsewhere. It is the same thing Clint Eastwood has done with the film American Sniper. All three of those men have made a pretty penny telling these tales, and while they are most certainly the ones to blame, we have some culpability as well. Whenever we hear a story that confirms our bias, that is when we must be more vigilant than ever. If a story feels too good to be true, it most likely is. Some on the right have blindly embraced the Chris Kyle story just like some on the left once blindly embraced the Rolling Stone UVA and the Duke Lacrosse rape stories. As I said in the original piece, cognitive dissonance is blind to political party or ideology.

That doesn't mean these types of stories are always false, just that we cannot take for granted that they are true, no matter how tempting that may be. As a personal example, just the other night I watched the Academy Award nominated documentary Virunga, on Netflix. This film is about the struggle to protect the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world, who happen to live in Congo, while a civil war rages around them and valuable oil and natural gas percolate under their feet. I really enjoyed the film a great deal. It touched upon a number of issues that I am deeply interested in, such as government/corporate corruption, colonialism, environmentalism and things of that nature . The thing about the film though, is that it left me feeling a bit…odd. What made my bullshit detector start to go off was that it all just seemed too perfect. The film was so aligned with what I believe about the world that when it ended I couldn't help but wonder if it was on the up and up. Was this all true or were parts of it manufactured? Was most of it manufactured? So instead of me embracing this film that confirmed my biases, I was wary of it, and wondered if it was deceptive. That may not be the most enjoyable way to experience the world, but I think in the long run, it is a much wiser and healthier way to approach information that is being presented to you.

I will say this about Virunga, I certainly hope it is true, but my hoping it is true doesn't make it so. Just like many people who desperately cling to the Bush administration pre-war WMD program claims, even after the administration itself has abandoned those claims, and some people cling to the tales Chris Kyle, aka "The Legend", told as being true, even though it is obvious to most observers that these tales, and "The Legend" itself, is much more complicated than we've been led to believe. These 'dead-enders', to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, who hang onto these stories do so because of the frightening prospect that in order to embrace the truth one must release the previously held belief that conflicts with that truth. Letting go of anything, be it a belief, a grudge or a favorite t-shirt, is difficult for people to do because it brings with it the possibility that we will lose our identity. Our ego will have nothing to grasp onto and we will be obliterated or thrown into the dark abyss if the familiar belief is released. This is why I hope Virunga is true and also why I fear it is not. The fear is not just that I would be wrong about my beliefs, but that I wouldn't know who I really was if I had to abandon my perceptions of the world. But for me, the greater fear is to be lost in one's own illusions and self deceptions. I can understand when people or institutions lie to me, they are trying to manipulate me for their own benefit, but what I cannot tolerate is when I lie to myself. To lie to oneself is the act of a fool or a coward, or in some cases...both.

The Manichean, Projections and Scapegoating

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When my original article was first posted it got a lot of readers linking to it from a variety of websites of which I had never heard. Many of these websites were gun enthusiast websites. My initial reaction was …"uh-oh". I was not raised in the gun culture, it is totally foreign to me. Gun enthusiasts are 'the other' for me. That is not to say that I am against gun rights, quite the opposite actually, as I am a staunch defender of gun rights (and all of the rights declared in the constitution). My basic approach to life is that just because I don't do something doesn't mean I should keep someone else from doing it. For instance, I do not drink alcohol or caffeine, do drugs, smoke cigarettes or have gay sex, but, call me crazy, I don't believe those things should be outlawed just because they aren't my thing. I feel the same way about gun rights. Back to the point, the important thing is that gun enthusiasts and that culture are alien to me. So it is easy for me to label that group of people and assume a bunch of things about them without any first hand experience. Much of the media is more than happy to help in that regard, so gun enthusiasts were 'gun nuts' in my mind, and the fact that they were reading my article was something very unsettling to me because I assumed they hated it and me for writing it. My reaction was that things were going to get bad and quick. Then I actually went and surreptitiously read the discussions about my article on those websites and I am ashamed to say that I was really surprised to see that not only were these people not 'unhinged', as they are so frequently labelled, but rather they were extraordinarily thoughtful. That is not to say they all agreed with the article, just that they were having a calm discussion based on reason, logic and rational thought, which is not something you come across very often in our culture in general and on the internet in particular. I was really glad to have had the opportunity to get a quick glimpse of some 'gun people' as they really are and not as they are portrayed to me in the media and I won't soon forget it or the lessons I learned from it.

My intellectual laziness in regards to gun enthusiasts was a reminder that it is never wise to assume things about a large group of people (or one single person for that matter). For example, it is common to make assumptions about people who serve in the military as well, lumping them all in the same category. This can be done in both a positive and negative fashion. For instance, some commenters were angry with me for daring to question Chris Kyle because to them veterans are beyond reproach due to the belief that they "fought for my freedoms". According to these commenters, anyone who served is a "hero". The problem with that though is, like any large institution, there are both good and bad people who serve in the military. A perfect example of this is that Eddie Ray Routh, the man accused of killing Chris Kyle, is a former Marine. So who decides who the good and bad veterans are? Does Eddie Ray Routh deserve the same kid gloves people tell me I am supposed to use with Chris Kyle? Or should we just judge people on the content of their character and not on whatever career choices they have made or service they have performed?

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Another example of this is that some of the most vociferous and diligent defenders of me in the comments sections, people like the humorously named but incredibly astute, knowledgable and insightful "Huck Mucus", were often veterans themselves (to be clear, they claimed to be veterans but this is the internet and I have no way of knowing if that is true or not). In response to a commenter that chastised me for not "thanking Chris Kyle" and other military members for fighting for my freedoms so that I could "sit on my ass" and write my article, Huck Mucus wrote,

I never met a vet who wanted to be thanked. If I did it would certainly raise an eyebrow; kind of like those guys who write books and toot their own horn. For me, if the U.S. honors any deal it cut with me (pay, VA, etc.) then that is all that is sought. Again, for me personally, I want this guy to sit on his ass behind a desk chipping away at your cognitive dissonance. I thank him for that. He doesn't have to thank me for my service. Just my opinion.

I most certainly do thank Huck Mucus for his well stated opinions, and everyone else as well. I also hope this brings to an end any discussions where "my ass" is on the list of acceptable topics. But seriously, what the comments section does show is that the service men and women of this country are a very diverse group with a multitude of opinions on a wide array of topics including Chris Kyle. This is an obvious statement which is all to easy to forget. So often we project all sorts of simple feelings and beliefs onto groups of people, be they veterans or otherwise, which just don't conform to the more complex reality.

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In psychology, projection is defined as "when humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others." Scapegoating is "the process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are utilized in focusing feelings of aggression, hostility, frustration, etc. upon another individual or group: the amount of blame being unwarranted."

Those who disagreed with my article often  projected upon me all sorts of attributes that, when they didn't mystify me, made me laugh. For instance I got a series of emails saying I was a  "Libtard" who "loved Hillary Clinton", and "hated the truth", and that I would "never be taken seriously as a writer" (oh no!! Not THAT!!) because I had written an article about "Chris Kyle and not Benghazi", which is sort of like calling Clint Eastwood a racist because American Sniper is not about Muhammed Ali. That logic boggles the mind.

A large part of the projections thrown upon me are a result of the Manichean philosophy. When you have a clear black and white perspective on the world, if someone disagrees with you on one subject, then you can fill in the blanks of all the things you don't know about them with all sorts of other attributes and beliefs that you find repellent. Because the perceived opponent has proven themselves 'wrong' /'bad' /'evil' with their original contrary belief, they must be the 'the other' and holder of all beliefs the Manichean finds repulsive. Hence, my being a "libtard-Hillary-Clinton-loving-Benghazi-denier".

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This is also a form of scapegoating, where all the negative aspects of a self described 'good' individual, group or community are projected upon an 'evil' select group or individual. These negative aspects are projected in order to consolidate all of the blame and hate into one person/group and then to finally purge that 'evil' person/group in order to relieve the individual/group/community of those negative ('evil') feelings or beliefs. Of course, the problem is that many, if not all, of those 'evil' projections that are thrown onto the scapegoat are creations of the scapegoating 'good' individual/group/community, and not the scapegoated 'evil' individual/group. That is how projection works, we throw our own worst aspects onto another and do not take responsibility for them ourselves. So while the scapegoating and purging will have the momentary effect of avoidance, eventually those negative 'evil' aspects will be front and center once again because they have not been released through genuine reflection and a true catharsis on the part of the scapegoater, so another scapegoat must be found to relieve the psychological pressure and continue the cycle. 

This projection/scapegoating is what I did with gun enthusiasts, this is what some readers did to me, it is what Chris Kyle did to Muslims/Iraqis and it is what some readers have done to Chris Kyle. Projecting/scapegoating is a very human, unconscious impulse, but the key to overcoming that impulse is to become conscious of it. Sadly, we usually want to take short cuts to thinking so we do not want to put in the effort to become aware, self aware, or informed enough to be conscious of what we are doing and why.

Death Threats?, The Temptation of Embellishment!! and What the Hell Do You Know?

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Interestingly enough, I have had a number of people ask me if I have received death threats as a result of the original article. I will say this about that…I certainly got a good number of aggressive emails and comments (the worst of which I did not let pass moderation due to inappropriateness of language) and a lot of vitriol spewed at me. I am sure that some other people might even consider those emails and comments 'threatening', but if I am being honest I have to say that the correspondence I received never reached the level of threats. For me to consider something 'threatening', I would have had to feel threatened, and I never for a moment felt truly threatened. Sure, some of the emails I got were very aggressive, but at the end of the day, it is just people writing nasty things, so who gives a rat's ass? I'm a big boy, people calling me names isn't something that is going to strike fear in my heart. Maybe I am just delusional or oblivious, but I was not alarmed at all. In the final analysis, really positive emails outnumbered negative ones by three to one at least, so I never spent much time dwelling on the school yard taunts thrown at me. 

But here is the thing….I was talking to a good friend about all of this the other day and he asked me if I had received any death threats and in that moment I quickly realized how really tempting it is to embellish the story. It is a much better story to say I did receive death threats. It is considerably more interesting, more dramatic and more impactful (and self aggrandizing) if I say I was threatened for writing an article some deem challenging or disrespectful to a 'hero' (this also would be me embracing the "Truth-teller archetype", in contrast to Chris Kyle embracing the "Hero archetype" which I will expand on later in this piece). In fact, I am pretty sure I could have made a big deal about some of the emails I got and claimed I actually did receive death threats, or what I perceived as death threats, and that would have brought me some attention. The reason? Because that is what some people want to hear. There is a segment of the population that if they heard I was receiving death threats, it would confirm what they already believe, that their ideological opponents are violent and unhinged. See, this is how the game works in our culture today, regardless of political affiliation. I tell people how scared I am and how crazy the 'pro-Kyle' people are, then I become a cause celebre and get my fifteen minutes of fame (and maybe make some money in the process). This is Victimhood and Media Manipulation 101. Then I could get myself out there as an important person because I am someone people want to shut up…well…someone the right people want to shut up. This stuff happens all the time (see Mr. Hannity's "Patriotism Under Attack" as just one example). This is what Chris Kyle did with the Ventura story and all the others, he gave his target audience what they wanted to hear, regardless if it was the Truth.

This brings up another complaint that people had of the original piece, namely that I was the person who wrote it. People would say, "who the hell are you?" "You're not a journalist! You're a nobody!!" Or "you are an acting coach what could you possibly know about anything?" This is a common approach to undermine the merits of an argument by attacking the authority or credibility of the person making the argument as opposed to looking at the merits of the argument itself. I do understand the criticism though, and believe me, I wouldn't have written the piece if someone who is paid to do these things would have done it. That is one of the things I was writing about, namely that the information I cited in my article was in the public sphere, and not just on some outer fringe of the internet, but in the Washington Post and The New Yorker magazine, and yet not a single media figure brought these issues up when the defamation verdict came out. People in the media were either being intentionally obtuse or were just plain ignorant. That is what frustrated me so much and that was the impetus for me to write the original piece. 

That said, due to my profession there are some things I know a great deal about, one of which is the eternal quest for fame and the machinery that makes it happen. I am surrounded by both all day long. Hollywood is one of the three great bullshit capitals of America, with Wall Street and Washington, D.C. the other two. Out here, embellishing, massaging or just completely making stories up in order to create and control impressions and perceptions is business as usual. You see and hear it happening incessantly. An age old example would be the well-worn story of the beautiful young woman who is "discovered" while waiting in line at a grocery store. This story is nonsense meant to generate interest in a particular ingenue, to give a fantasy for other young women to root for this ingenue because they too could be "discovered at the grocery store", to give the impression for men that this beauty is really attainable because she is just the "girl-next-door", and to create a way for shady guys to inappropriately approach beautiful young girls in public under the guise of "discovering" them.

Same thing with the many stories about actors going to great lengths to physically morph into a character. For instance, did Bradley Cooper really gain forty pounds to play Chris Kyle? Or is it more likely he gained twenty pounds, which, by the way, is one hell of an achievement for a forty year old man and I am sure he gave a Herculean effort to do it, but twenty pounds doesn't sound all that Herculean to the average Joe, whereas forty pounds sounds incredibly remarkable, almost otherworldly. Hollywood will always go with the incredibly remarkable otherworldly story, every…single...time.

One other thing I know about as an acting coach is how to create a believable narrative and a sympathetic character. This is why my spidey sense started going off when I read the "American Sniper" book. It is filled little stories, that are really just throw away little tales, but they are so sculpted as to manipulate the reader to believe that Chris Kyle is everything they want him to be (not to mention they are 'unverifiable' to borrow a phrase from the Washington Post). I work with actors and scripts all day long searching for these minuscule little triggers that are so essential to creating a massive unconscious effect in the reader/viewer. It is a credit to Kyle's co-authors how subtly their work has been done. The "babykiller" sign story and the "discovering barrels of WMD" are two stories that stood out to me because of how quickly and quietly they are dropped into the narrative. The book expertly creates a character that is humble and sincere, even in his faults, all the while he is actually bragging (he is writing a book about himself!!) and bullshitting you (Scruff-face/Ventura etc.). You know what they say, once you can fake sincerity, then you've really got it made. In that sense, "American Sniper" is an absolute masterpiece and I genuinely credit Kyle and his co-authors for the craft displayed in making it.

Musings on "The Legend" as The Hero Archetype Runs Amok

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The reason some react so strongly to my article is that the topic touches a nerve deep within the personal and collective psyche. The Hero Archetype is not only something that Chris Kyle needed to believe in, it is something we all need to believe in, as evidenced by the enormous success of the film American Sniper, which is as full blown an homage to the Hero Archetype as it gets. We all project these archetypal images onto the voids of our psyches and our realities. So when our heroes are challenged, that means the Hero Archetype, an entity in and of itself, is challenged as well. The archetype resides deep within our unconscious, both personal and collective, and it will instinctively defend itself, and for our own psychic self defense we will jump to it's defense as well. 

It is my belief that Chris Kyle was under the spell of this Hero Archetype. Chris Kyle's psyche was split in two, there was Chris Kyle the man, the father, son, husband, brother, and then there was "The Legend". Maybe that happened as a defense mechanism for him to be able to survive both physically and mentally in a war zone, and then to be able to maintain a sense of emotional and mental equilibrium upon his return home. This is completely understandable. And when other people projected upon him the collective Hero Archetype, this empowered "The Legend" side of things, and then there was no way for 'Chris' to escape this alter-ego, so he unconsciously, or consciously, embraced it. As I said in the original piece, 'Chris' knew the things he said were not true, but the Hero Archetype, "The Legend", overwhelmed that mindset and what became important wasn't what was true, but what could be true. In reading Chris' tales, I get the sense that those images, of him hitting Ventura, of the carjackers, the looters, etc. are creations of the Hero Archetype "The Legend" which had him under its power. In the final analysis, Chris Kyle is totally responsible for the tales he told, but the people and media who fawned over "The Legend" also have a share in the blame for the fantastic tales as well. Living a life where people project tremendous amounts of archetypal energy onto you must be a terribly exhausting existence. There are many examples where it has destroyed people, think of Marylin Monroe and all of the archetypal sexual energy directed at her and how it eventually annihilated her. At some point, being "The Legend" was no longer a choice, but rather the cross 'Chris' had to bear, albeit an at times very prosperous one.

To me, this hypothesis is the only way to make much sense of what has become the most interesting question of all…why? Why would a guy with such an apparent stellar resume as a warrior (two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars), feel the need to make up stories in order to sound tougher or more heroic? I can understand why Brian Williams would make up stories, his claim to fame is reading a teleprompter every night for twenty two minutes while maintaining impeccable hair. But Chris Kyle is allegedly the most lethal sniper in US military history, isn't that an impressive enough calling card for that line of work that you don't need to pad it with bullshit? Apparently not. Obviously, the preceding thoughts are just my opinion on why he lied about the things he lied about, and since I never met Chris Kyle, take them for what they are worth.

Final Thoughts

As usual, a commenter had some great insights into what all of this means. Andie Howe wrote...

Thank you for this great article. I can't imagine it will make any difference. Those who believe Chris Kyle will continue to believe Chris Kyle and will vilify you for having written it; and the rest of us will continue to think his devotees are deluded….

I think Andie Howe is probably accurate in that statement. I will say this though, from all of the insightful emails and great comments I received it is pretty obvious to me that there are many fellow travelers out there, much more than I previously thought, who actually 'get it'. And I don't mean agree with me on the Chris Kyle issue. What I mean is they 'get' what I was really saying and the problem I was trying to describe. I think it is a result of my deficiencies as a writer that I was unable to more clearly communicate what exactly I was trying to say. But I am grateful for those that were able to find the true meaning hidden beneath the morass of the Chris Kyle story. For at the end of the day, thanks to the Clint Eastwood film American Sniper, Truth has gone out the window, and the Chris Kyle story and the debate swirling around it have devolved into nothing more than a political football being vacuously tossed around with each side reflexively opposing the other and mindlessly clinging to their beliefs. The story itself will dissipate just like all the others, and something more pressing, and ultimately just as foolish, will take it's place. And this seemingly endless cycle of nonsense and bullshit will keep the media, our politics, our culture and ourselves chasing after our tails (and tales) until we simply collapse from exhaustion or boredom, whichever comes first. It was Shakespeare's MacBeth who said it best...

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Such is life…and so it goes.

© 2015

 

CLICK HERE FOR A REVIEW OF THE CLINT EASTWOOD DIRECTED FILM AMERICAN SNIPER .

American Sniper: A Review

***** WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! THIS IS YOUR ONE AND ONLY SPOILER ALERT!!****

 

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, is the story of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and is loosely based on his book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.  The film follows Chris Kyle's exploits on the battlefield in Iraq and his struggles with his family and PTSD back on the homeland.

I admit that after seeing the trailer for American Sniper I was excited to see the film. The trailer was really well made and brought with it a palpable tension. But, as with many films, the trailer is considerably better than the actual film. The film itself, just like the trailer, starts off with Chris Kyle prone atop a building in Iraq, contemplating whether or not he should use his sniper rifle to shoot a young boy and woman who threaten US Marines with a Russian grenade off in the distance. The film then deviates from the trailer and we go into  extended flash back scenes which show Kyle's boyhood, his young adult life, his work as a cowboy, his joining the Navy, his SEAL training, his meeting his wife and then his wedding. This is all shown to us in order to give us context for who Chris is and how he got to be that way. After twenty minutes of this exposition, we come back to Kyle atop the roof with his sniper rifle and his pending decision. He shoots and kills both the boy and his mother, his first ever kills. 

Bradley Cooper stars as Chris Kyle and is as good as he's ever been. He fully inhabits the role from top to bottom. His physicality, his Texas drawl and his energy are all spot on. Cooper's performance, without question, carries the film. There are two scenes in particular, where Cooper rises above his already very good performance to be truly transcendent. The first scene is where he has another Iraqi boy in his sniper sights as the boy picks up an RPG and points it at unsuspecting US troops. Kyle talks to himself telling the kid to drop the weapon, he doesn't want to kill another child. Just as the boy is aiming the RPG and Kyle readies to squeeze the trigger, the boy drops the weapon and runs off. Cooper's use of breath once he no longer has to decide whether to shoot or not, is brilliant. He lets out a guttural grunt of relief at being spared the damage to his psyche and soul that most assuredly would have come with killing another child, justified or not. The second scene is when Chris has returned from the war for the last time but has not told his family yet. His wife calls his cell phone and Chris answers sitting by himself in a bar in the states. He is detached and shut down, but his wife Taya tells him his kids miss him and want to see him, and once again Cooper masterfully uses his breath to show the torment and grief that lives deep in Kyle's soul, as he lets out an uncontained weep and wail and tells Taya that he is coming home. These are easily the two best scenes in the film and are highlights of not only the film, but of Bradley Cooper's career. That is the good news about American Sniper. The bad news is that the rest of the film never lives up to the at-times stellar work Bradley Cooper does in it. Sadly, the film never rises above being a standard biopic and run-of-the-mill war movie. Besides Cooper's strong performance, there is nothing remarkable about the film at all. Visually the film is dull and generic. The script is tedious and unoriginal, the dialogue stilted and occasionally cringe-worthy and the supporting actors are, for the most part, considerably below par. The end result is the film looks rushed and cheap.

For any war movie, the battle scenes need to shine in order for the film to distinguish itself. With American Sniper, the battle scenes all look flat, stagnant and lack any texture at all. The battle scenes look like something you'd see any night of the week on an episodic television show. When you consider some of the great war films that have been made, whether it be Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private RyanThe Thin Red Line or Black Hawk Down, just to name a few, and how visually creative, powerful and unique those films are, American Sniper is so visually listless as to be embarrassing in comparison.

Another thing that needs to be done for a war film to be successful is that it must attach us to a group of warriors and accurately describe and detail the unique camaraderie inherent in the warrior culture. The camaraderie in American Sniper rings false and feels contrived. Eastwood attempts to create a sense of familiarity in order for us to feel we know and care about the other SEALs in Kyle's graduating class and on his team, but we never really connect because these characters are nothing more than indistinguishable blurs. We may care about them as US servicemen, but we don't care about them as individuals or in relationship to Chris Kyle. They end up being simply cannon fodder for the film.

As for the script and the story, director Eastwood chose to use standard Hollywood narrative tools to make the story more palatable for American audiences. For instance, he chose to make an enemy sniper named "Mustafa" Chris Kyle's main foil throughout the battlefield parts of the film. The Mustafa character is only mentioned in passing in one paragraph in Chris Kyle's book, so this is a distinct creative decision to make him such a prominent character in the film. Eastwood also uses a character named "The Butcher" as another foil and symbol for the evil and brutality of America's enemy in the war. In the book, the "Butcher" character doesn't exist at all. Eastwood must have felt he needed to give the enemy in Iraq a face and a name in order to make the Iraq war segments more coherent and digestible for American audiences, not unlike what the Bush administration did in selling the actual war to the American public by making it about "Saddam and Osama". It worked for Bush and company in persuading the American public, but it fails Eastwood because he isn't selling a product (war), he is trying to create a great piece of intimate art and you can't do that by rolling out tired Hollywood storytelling devices, stereotypes and cliches.

There are two other fatal errors by Eastwood in the film. They both deal with endings. The first is the final battle scene and the second is how he ends the film itself. The final battlefield scene is nothing short of an artistic debacle, and seems to be transplanted from another film, and it certainly isn't from Kyle's book. In the sequence, Kyle takes a near impossible sniper shot from over a mile away that takes out his nemesis, Mustafa. Here Eastwood, for the first time in the film, uses a visual effect, a slow motion of the bullet as it leaves the rifle, which feels like it is taken from any number of hokey action movies from the last ten years (I am thinking of Wanted et al).  All of this happens while a sand storm and jihadis close in on Kyle and his squad. In the heat of this dire battle Chris decides to use a satellite phone to call Taya and tell her he is done with war and is coming home.  This sequence is so unwieldy and preposterous as to be comical. It belongs in a Mission: Impossible sequel and not in an allegedly true to life, gritty war movie. And instead of the sandstorm being symbolic of the loss of our national bearings in Iraq, it just comes across as being optically muddled and metaphorically befuddling. There are much more visually coherent and impactful ways to make that important point, which gets lost with Eastwood's approach.

Then there is the final scene of the film, which is very manipulative and grating. In it Kyle says goodbye to his family as he heads out to help a former Marine suffering from PTSD. In reality, this former Marine would tragically shoot and kill Chris Kyle and his friend at a shooting range that day (this is not shown in the film). In the movie scene, Taya Kyle tells Chris how proud she is of him, his kids all love him and he is finally healed and whole. It is obviously a fantasy sequence where everyone gets to say what they had hoped to say and hear what they hoped to hear and Chris' journey is neatly tied up, his martyrdom awaiting him in the form of a shady looking veteran right outside the door. Taya Kyle even has a feeling, call it a sixth sense, about this nefarious fellow waiting for her husband…then we fade to black. I understand wanting to do all that for the family, but this isn't a home movie. The final scene rings so hollow, phony and forced that it could have come right out of a Lifetime movie of the week. It is all too neat and clean and perfect (and also not how events actually played out in real life), so much so that it actually diminishes the impact of Chris Kyle's tragic death. How much more gut wrenching would it be if Taya Kyle didn't get to say all those things to her husband? What if Chris wasn't healed and whole before his death? What if he wasn't finished yet? What if he didn't get to say goodbye to his kids? That would have been a way to really emphasize the shock and horror and tragedy of Chris Kyle being so unexpectedly killed in suburban Texas after having survived four combat tours in Iraq.

Those two critical scenes are not well done, but they aren't the only missteps. There is a scene, the 'garage' scene, where a former Marine approaches Kyle back in America while his car is getting fixed and thanks Kyle for saving him back in Iraq. This could have been a really great scene, and Cooper is wondrously uncomfortable in it which is really interesting to watch, but the other actor's work is so disastrously abominable and false that it is cringe-worthy, and because of that the scene loses any dramatic impact it might have had with even a mediocre actor in that role.

Which brings me to the supporting acting. The work of the supporting actors, particularly in the 'stateside' scenes, is positively dreadful. The actor (whom I will not name) playing Chris Kyle's father is absolutely appalling, and the actor (whom I will also not name) playing Kyle's brother is so unconscionably atrocious it is downright shocking. I kept wondering, why does Chris Kyle's brother not have a Texas drawl when his father and Chris do? Also, why couldn't they find the brother a dress blue uniform that actually fit instead of being three sizes too big? The child actors who play Chris and his brother when they were young, well, they are just children, so at least they have an excuse…but boy, they are not good at acting.

So the question becomes: why are all of these supporting and smaller roles so poorly done? Well, Clint Eastwood is well known for being a minimalist in regards to how many takes he will do. That is a good and bad thing. It is good because when you do fewer takes you stay on schedule, and when you stay on schedule, you stay on budget, and when you stay on budget they let you keep making movies. The bad part is, the acting suffers. So when you are giving great actors, like Sean Penn for instance in Mystic River, or Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, or Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself in Unforgiven, fewer takes, they are able to adjust their approach and keep knocking it out of the park due to their talent and skill, but with lesser talents, their performances flounder and feel rushed and out of rhythm with the rest of the film. The supporting actors in American Sniper are really abysmal, and it is not all their fault. They weren't there everyday getting the feel for the pace of the work (like Cooper was), they weren't getting the rhythm down, they showed up and had to shoot and then did two takes and it was over and they go home. It is a tough gig, but man, regardless of the reason or who is to blame, the supporting cast did a very poor job and the film suffers greatly for it.

There is one exception in regards to the supporting acting, and that is Sienna Miller. Sienna Miller does her best to bring life to the terribly written character of Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle's wife. Her work is admirable, and her American accent is very well done (which is not always the case when the Brits take it on) but the part only allows her to hit two notes: sassy and weepy. It is such a hollow and empty character that Miller should be credited for giving her all to it in a Quixotic attempt to bring some semblance of life to the character, but sadly there just isn't enough there for life to exist.

One issue which may have been a major reason why the film turned out the way it did, is that Eastwood didn't set out to make a great piece of drama, he set out to canonize Chris Kyle. This canonization of St. Chris Kyle, patron saint of 'Merica, is an example of deification, which is an all too common problem when making a biopic, particularly a biopic of someone who has died and who's family is involved in the making of the film. (I have written two previous blog posts on deification which you might find of interest. The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part Two, is more relevant to the American Sniper conversation, but feel free to read them both. Links :  The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part Two  , The Great Man Theory and the Dangers of Deification Part One  ) I recently read where Chris Kyle's father told Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper that if they dishonored his son he would "bring hell down on them". I understand Mr. Kyle's desire to protect his son's legacy, which has been called into question for some dubious claims his son had made, not the least of which was that he claimed to have punched Jesse Ventura out for making disparaging remarks about SEALs. That tale was adjudicated in the courts and found to be untrue, but Eastwood and Cooper needed to be more loyal to artistic truth than to any man, alive or dead. A great failure of the film is that it really is nothing more than propaganda (propaganda being defined as "the spreading of ideas, information or rumors for the purpose of helping a cause or person"), not just propaganda for a distinct version of America, the war and a certain view of the world, but more specifically it is personal propaganda for Chris Kyle and his 'legacy'. That isn't a bad thing in and of itself, some people love propaganda and some propaganda can be terrifically entertaining. But you can't make great art and propaganda at the same time. So American Sniper is not great art because it is propaganda, and it isn't great propaganda because as a film it isn't even remotely well crafted, either in the directing, the writing, or besides Bradley Cooper, in the acting. 

As a result of this creative 'deification' of Chris Kyle, a lot of really compelling issues and ideas get pushed aside in order to maintain an agreed upon version of Kyle's legacy. For instance, in the film when Chris Kyle is a young boy, his father tells him that there are three types of people in the world..sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs. The sheep are too weak or stupid to protect themselves or even admit that there is evil in the world, the wolves are evil and prey upon the sheep, and the sheep dog protects the sheep from the wolves. Mr. Kyle tells Chris that he raises only sheep dogs. This story propels Chris Kyle through his life and his Navy career. An interesting topic to explore would be that it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a sheepdog and a wolf. If the sheepdog goes to someone else's country and kills people, is he still a sheep dog or is he a wolf? Does Kyle's film nemesis Mustafa think of himself as a sheepdog and Kyle as the wolf? Don't all the people fighting for the enemy tell themselves the same story about sheepdogs and wolves and see themselves as sheepdogs? And don't they have a stronger case for being the sheepdogs since they are the ones being attacked and invaded? That brings up another topic which would be intriguing to explore which is that Chris Kyle never ever has any doubt, be it in his mission or the justness of his cause. His faith is entirely in his own virtue and the righteousness of his country. Something that obviously eluded him in his lifetime, is that this faith, this lack of any doubt, is something he has in common with his enemy. The jihadi, whether it be "The Butcher" or Mustafa, is blindingly positive he is righteous and sees any doubt of the righteousness of his cause, by himself or anyone else, as a crime against his faith, his mission, his God. In the film, Chris Kyle's fellow SEAL (a one-time seminarian) had creeping doubts about the mission in Iraq, and after this SEAL is killed, Chris Kyle tells his wife that the SEAL's doubt in the mission is what got him killed. This conviction and lack of doubt is most assuredly an asset in a war zone, but how well does that certitude translate to peace time and a normal, functioning family life? That would have been a fascinating issue to explore.

Someone once said, 'Without doubt, there can be no true faith'. This struggle to hold onto surety is dramatically fertile ground which I wish the film had explored more deeply. For instance, there is a scene in the film where Chris Kyle is interviewed by a psychologist about his PTSD and the doctor asks him if he has any regrets. Kyle quickly answers that he only wishes he could have saved more Marines. I found this an interesting answer, only because there isn't the slightest bit of introspection from Kyle, and he seems blind to an obvious solution to protecting Marines which Kyle has never contemplated. If he had just stopped to think about it, one good and undeniable way to save more Marines would be to not send them into Iraq in the first place. Though that thought would never have occurred to Chris Kyle because he could not allow doubt about the mission to enter his mind. For Chris Kyle, doubt is death. In this way, Chris Kyle was like the jihadis he so masterfully killed in Iraq, he was a 'true believer'. The thing about the 'true believer' is that deep down, his faith isn't so true, because he cannot grapple with doubt. Thus his faith is one of compulsion and force, not one of reason and logic. American Sniper never had the artistic courage for this, and other deeper explorations and that is a shame because it could have been so much more than it was.

Regardless of what American Sniper isn't and what topics it avoids, it still could have been a great and entertaining movie as it was, a straight up biopic and war film. Sadly, it fails at this attempt because it gets the basics wrong. The basics being the visuals which look pedestrian and cheap, the script which is clumsily written and the acting, which, with the notable exception of Bradley Cooper, is amateurish. After the heart pounding trailer, I went into American Sniper with elevated expectations which the film was unable to meet and so I left the theatre exceedingly disappointed with the film.

Once upon a time, Clint Eastwood directed one of my favorite films of all time, Unforgiven, which would have been an excellent blue print to follow in making American Sniper. The regrets and impact of a life of violence upon the human psyche and soul is a vast and rich topic on which to meditate for an artist, which Eastwood proved in Unforgiven, but with American Sniper he chooses to avoid those difficult questions and instead makes a garden variety biopic that is little more than a commercial for the family approved legacy of Chris Kyle. It certainly isn't the worst film ever made, so if you are a fan boy or a flag waver, and there is nothing wrong with being either of those things, then this film might be for you. But if you are a cinephile or thinking patriot, then your time would be better spent elsewhere.

FOR FURTHER READING ON THE TOPIC OF THE REAL-LIFE CHRIS KYLE, PLEASE CLICK ON THIS LINK TO MY BLOG POSTING Truth, Justice and the Curious Case of Chris Kyle

 

ADDENDUM: THE FILM WHISPERER SPEAKS...

After reviewing a film, I am often asked…"okay smart guy, if you are such a god damn genius, then how would you make the film?" So… here is the answer to that question...how could they have made American Sniper (as a straight forward biopic war movie) a better film? Here is my prescription: you start the film with Chris and Taya Kyle's wedding. You have about five to seven minutes of wedding stuff (The Godfather starts with a wedding…remember!?!?). You meet his family and in the form of toasts at the wedding they tell stories of Chris' childhood. You have his SEAL classmates give toasts telling of Kyle's SEAL training and friendships with team members. You have an intimate scene of Chris and Taya having a quiet and profound moment together. Then after establishing the people in Chris's life, and his relationship to them, you put him on the roof in Iraq behind his sniper rifle aiming at the woman and her son. Then you spend the next hour of the film showing every single confirmed kill, all 160 of them, that Chris Kyle ever made. These are not elaborate set-ups and wouldn't bust the budget. Quite the opposite. You just have a shot of Kyle in various locales and then have a shot through his scope at what he sees and you see each person he shoots drop and Kyle's reaction to it. You do this over and over and over, with some interactions with Marines and soldiers he is protecting thrown in, and his 'door to door' work as well, until his first tour is over. Then you show him back home with Taya as she is pregnant and then with the newborn. Chris never speaks in these 'at home' segments, he is detached and preoccupied. The Iraq segments of the film should be especially vibrant, both visually and with sound, in direct contrast to the 'at home' sections, which are washed out and nearly silent. Then back to Iraq for tour two and more sniper kills from Kyle, interspersed with his lively interactions with fellow SEALs and Marines. Then back home for more detached domesticity…and so on and so forth until his final kill at the end of tour four and his return home for good. 

This approach would show how grinding and relentless the work of war is for the men who wage it, and the true impact of that assault on Chris Kyle's psyche, senses and soul. The audience would be rubbed raw from watching an hour of non-stop, methodical killing of 160 men, women and children. Then we transition to back home permanence and the struggle to get back to normal. It would seem as foreign to the viewer as it must have been for Chris Kyle. We then spend the next twenty minutes having very tight and intense scenes between Chris and Taya as they do the hard work of recovering their marriage, family and a sense of normalcy. These would be great scenes for Cooper and Miller to really dig in and have some fantastic acting moments as they fight for their relationship and family. This conflict is resolved when Kyle relents and goes to a psychiatrist who diagnoses him with PTSD and then tells him how he can help other servicemen suffering from the same ailment. Now we get into the final forty minutes or so of the film, which should be spent showing Kyle having very deep and meaningful conversations and interactions with PTSD sufferers. You have one or two guys in particular who we get to know and we see how Kyle's work impacts them and transforms them. So we see the tangible good Kyle did for others and how he helped himself by helping them. This gives us a true picture of Chris Kyle being healed and whole. Then you have Kyle and his close friend leave an empty house, Taya and the kids are out and Kyle has to leave the house without saying goodbye, and they go and meet a another young man with PTSD and they have a long drive to a shooting range and we see Kyle helping this guy as he has helped the other men we've met. At the end of this long drive and a profound conversation, Chris, his friend and the young man get out of the truck at a shooting range and you see from a long distance the young man pull a gun and kill both Kyle and his friend. Then, in the final scene, we see Taya with the kids, out at the mall or something, and her cell phone rings, we see her answer but don't hear anything. We see her crumble in horror and grief as she obviously gets the news of her husband's murder. Fade to black, scroll the news footage of Chris Kyle's funeral procession and memorial at Texas stadium.

Doing the film this way maintains Kyle's 'legacy' much more than the Eastwood film does. It doesn't make him another action hero, it makes him an actual human being, who excelled at war, struggled to recover his balance once returning from war, and then found himself once again being of service to others. That is how you make a financially and artistically successful Chris Kyle biopic. Back up the Brinks truck and prepare your Oscar speech Mr. Cooper and Mr. Eastwood and maybe even Ms. Miller. Sadly, this isn't what happened. Oh…and Hollywood studios, please wise up and contact me, The Film WhispererBEFORE you shoot these films,  and you will save yourself a lot of trouble, and make yourself a lot of money and win yourself a lot of Oscars. I am currently available and my rates are reasonable…for now.

© 2014

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , THE IMITATION GAME , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .