I wasn’t sure if I should write this, but the more I thought about it the more determined I became that it is the right thing to do.
Yesterday I went and treated myself to a day at the theater. I saw two that day; The Imitation Game (which I highly recommend) and American Sniper. Both films deal with the horror of war and tragic loss of great men, but of the two American Sniper was the one that stuck with me. It cut a little too close to home.
You’d never guess it looking at me now as it was many years (and pounds) ago, but I am an Iraq War Vet. I was in theater from February of 2004 to Febuary 2005, and though I have been home for coming on a decade now, a piece of me will always be there. I know the pain, the anger, the regret, the comradery, the laughter, and especially the boredom. I remember every dumb order that could have gotten me killed. I remember every dumb mistake I made that could have gotten me and others killed.
Unlike Chris Kyle, the entire time I was over I never fired one shot, a point that fills me with joy each day. I have enough demons, I don’t need any ghosts following me too. The closest I came was pointing my weapon at some poor guy who wouldn’t get out from in front of the truck I was riding in. I clicked the safety off and was debating on whether to shoot or not, but the situation never called for it and the man eventually got his car out of our lane and we drove on. I luckily only have to live with a “what if”, I know a great many people who can’t say the same. Every pull of the trigger costs more than a bullet and I felt that every time “The Legend” squeezed and let one fly.
Bradley Cooper deserves every award in the world for this one. He got that the real performance was in the a look or glance over the shoulder, not so much in the dialogue. The director, Clint Eastwood wisely didn’t go crazy with the camera trying to impart what the character is going through with camera movements, instead lets Cooper sit, stew, and act with very subtle camera moves so as to not distract you from the performance. For instance there is a scene in a bar as Chris Kyle sits and sees a person of what appears to be Middle Eastern decent playing basketball in the corner of his vision. Some people might miss it, but I know that look. I remember the first time I saw someone who looked Middle Eastern when I came back and how all of the sudden I was looking over my shoulder and I was on edge. I remember the unease and confusion I felt, this person meant me no harm and had as much right to be there as I did. I still feel the shame of that moment.
Speaking of shame, the politicization of the film by many critics and/or political figures just saddens me. I have not read the book (I now intend to), but the film is apolitical. The film does not tell you how or what to feel, only the circumstances and feelings of Kyle and his family and compatriots at the time. People have taken the fact that nowhere in the movie does it state that the Iraq War was 100 % good or bad to either blast the movie or exalt it depending on where they sit on the political spectrum.
There are legitimate criticisms for the film, for instance they could have expanded on Kyle’s struggle and his work with other vets when he got out or how they compressed time so much the viewer doesn’t have a good sense of just how many years the film actually covers. However these points seem lost in a sea of tired political rhetoric that is more about these people wanting to hear themselves talk than about the movie or about what these people went through. Now, I am a politically active person and you can bet your ass I have my own opinions on what went down in the Iraq War, but if I can check my views at the door and accept the film that is being presented to me for what it is, can I then not expect the same thing from professional journalists and critics?
I’m no hero, I just went where I was told, did what I was told to the best of my ability (which isn’t saying much), and came home. I don’t presume to speak for anybody who served, save myself. To the people who had to go through real shit, who had to make split second decisions that they have to live with for the rest of their lives what I went through was a joke. I had it easy compared to so many. That said, I get this movie. More than that, I know this movie and I’m glad it exists. I urge you to see it without hunting for agendas that aren’t there. I hope it helps people understand, I hope it helps them cope, and most of all, I hope it helps people remember.