3 Stars — Thought-provoking

There is no way to get around it, war is hell. Innocents are slaughtered along with evil men and women. American Sniper takes us to the surgical center of the activities required to wage modern warfare. This is the true story of Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in U.S. history.

The story begins with boyhood influences and includes the psychological toll that the war took on him and his family.

Directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the autobiography written by Kyle, we witness a common story where a young man is tremendously impacted by the aftermath of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and chooses to go off to war to serve his country. Kyle grew up with a strong moral code instilled by his father and his faith, and he was a skilled sharpshooter as a young man, a talent honed from many hunting expeditions with his dad. Once in the Navy Seal program, he quickly rises to the top as a legend in the field with his accuracy and “kill count.”

Back home his story is replicated daily by thousands of young men and women who enter the military and endure the ravages of war. Spending half of your life on the battlefield witnessing horror while clinging to your bonded brothers and sisters, the other half of the year is spent back in the United States with your family trying to readjust to the expectations of “normal life,” knowing that they have little understanding of what you have gone through.

Kyle marries the pretty girl, has children and wants the bucolic life for them that he experienced as a small boy. Managing a family and managing the war demons that he carries around with him for the rest of his life is a balancing act that takes its toll on everyone.

Kyle puts in four tours of duty in Iraq, an experience that builds him into a public legend in both the eyes of his troops and the eyes of the enemy. This leads to terrorist organizations placing a $180,000 bounty on his head for anyone who can kill him. The equal and opposite response in Kyle’s life is that he becomes more internal in his thoughts and more isolated in his emotions, causing the predictable friction with his family during his times stateside.

These are not easy scenes to watch, and sensitive viewers are forewarned.

While this experience is predictable, what is not as easy to understand is why some people become bitter, angry and resentful as a result of witnessing this wanton loss of lives, while others, like Kyle, seem to take it in stride and are sensitized to the importance of protecting the lives of others. Is it their faith in a greater purpose? Or, is it the stoic example of his father? This is not a man who gets an emotional rush from winning a fictional video game where the enemy is wiped out.

It may be a miracle of modern science that keeps so many soldiers alive today that would have died on battlefields of the past. After a decade of fighting in the Middle East, we have lost less than half of the men who were killed in the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg. Nevertheless, the psychological traumas of war are having a profound impact on the men and women who survive their duty on the field.

Kyle paid the ultimate price of war, but it wasn’t until he returned home that he knew what it would cost.


» The nature of war is to take the lives of other humans. What does such behavior do to our humanity, both individually and as a whole? How do you keep your sense of the sanctity of human life?

» When Kyle returns home only to not really be present to his family, he understandably brings his pain with him. What do you think should be done for such soldiers to restore their humanity?

» It is not the nature of governments to take care of soldiers. Why do you think this is true? What should we as citizens of our nations do to either change this governmental response or step into the gap and help?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.