A Veteran’s View of ‘American Sniper’ (Guest Column)

American Sniper

Paul Rieckhoff is CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), an Iraq veteran, and the author of “Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier’s Perspective.” He offers his thoughts on Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” in a guest column.

I’ve seen just about every film about the Iraq War ever made. I’ve produced and associate produced a few. I even appeared in one (for about a millisecond). And without a doubt, “American Sniper” is the single best work of film about the Iraq War ever made.

Now, it’s not the most complex film. Not the deepest film. Not even the most provocative. But in terms of storytelling, action, emotion, production and performance, attention to detail and especially the frighteningly accurate soundscape, there’s been nothing else close that’s been made since my platoon entered the war in Iraq in 2003. It’s a cinematic bull’s-eye.

Less like a sniper’s shot and more like heavy artillery, the film tells an incredible story with pounding power and brings the average civilian viewer closer to the American post-9/11 combat experience than they’ve ever been before. Bradley Cooper is the backbone of it all, delivering a defining performance of our time. He miraculously transformed himself into the real-life super hero that was Chris Kyle — the most dangerous (and famous) sniper in U.S. history. I never met Chris Kyle, but anyone who ever saw “The Legend” in interviews will know instantly that Cooper nailed it. And Sienna Miller is painfully poignant as his wife, Taya. These two brilliant lead performances weave the core of the film’s true unique power: showing how tough, almost unthinkably tough, the life of the Kyle family was over the course of nearly a decade of nearly non-stop war. No other feature (non-documentary) film puts you in the shoes of an American servicemember, and his or her family, like “American Sniper.”

The film forcefully expresses the complexity of one incredible, dedicated man, and his incredible, dedicated family. The true, violent craziness of their experience is a constant — and the very heartbeat of the film. It’ll leave you in awe — and hopefully a bit outraged — by the enormity of what we’ve required our most elite service members and their families to sacrifice. But it also gives a probing look into what every one of us who served in Iraq experienced. Especially in the scenes when Chris talks to Taya by phone — he in a firefight, she outside a hospital — the film brutally exposes the unprecedented civil-military divide that exists in America after 9/11.

“American Sniper” does not, however, much address the overall complexity of the larger political issues surrounding the war — or the complexity of the Iraqi side of the experience. And that’s OK. Kyle, much like many I served with, and our president himself during most of the Iraq War, held a very black-and-white view of the conflict. We were right, they were wrong. That’s how they saw things. Eastwood and Cooper have both commented extensively that they looked to classic Hollywood Westerns to inspire this film. And they succeeded. In “American Sniper,” like in Chris Kyle and George Bush’s Iraq War, American troops wore the white hats, and Iraqi fighters wore the black ones. That was their war. That was their truth.

It was not the war I saw during my time as an infantry platoon leader in Baghdad, and not the war many others saw overflowing with spectrums of gray. But it was the war Chris Kyle and many others saw. This is a real and important perspective that must be explored and showcased in order to truly understand the broader American experience of the Iraq War.

In the end, “American Sniper” is a great American war story. A new war film classic. Maybe the greatest modern war film of our time. But its power is in its focused simplicity. It’s hard and fast and goes down like a burning whiskey shot. Right down to the way the story (and the film) ends.

And “American Sniper” is badly needed at this point in the post-9/11 national dialogue. Especially after a decade-long parade of awful films like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Green Zone,” “Stop-Loss” and “Home of the Brave” (featuring the acting prowess of 50 Cent). For many years, many in Hollywood said that America was not interested in Iraq War movies. They were wrong. Americans just weren’t interested in bad Iraq War movies. Or most other kinds of bad movies.

Outstanding (but much smaller) films like the delicate “Taking Chance” and the masterful “Fort Bliss” hit the mark hard. But for very small audiences.

Lone Survivor” had been the highly successful, big-budget exception — and stands truly in its own class. The real story of courage, beautifully directed by Pete Berg (now an IAVA board member) will and should endure. It will also last forever in minds of a generation in defining the American post-9/11 combat experience in the same way “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill” did for another. But it focused on Afghanistan, not Iraq. Which is a very different story — and despite what most Americans may think — a very different war.

And, of course “Hurt Locker” won the Oscar, but it was panned by me and most of the veteran community for its carelessness and cowboyification — and the simplification of a more careless and unintentional kind. And, for the failure of its director and leadership team to use it as a tool to give back to the veterans community. While the iconic supermarket scene is one of the most brilliant yet in depicting the modern struggles of a warrior returning home, in the end, the story of “Hurt Locker” was more about Hollywood’s story (and director Kathryn Bigelow’s story) than it was about ours.

In any discussion of post-9/11 war films, it’s essential to note this generation is different in one mammoth way. Thanks to evolution in camera technology and journalistic courage, the best post-9/11 films are still (and maybe always will be) the documentaries — most of which most have not been widely seen. “Control Room,” “Gunner Palace,” “When I Came Home,” “Warrior Champions” (in full disclosure, both of which I helped produce) and, most of all, Sebastian Junger’s bold masterpiece “Restrepo” will last forever. They bring civilians closer to the truth than any feature film can, and as close to the combat experiences of this generation as you can get without walking into a recruiter’s office.

But “American Sniper” is no doc. It is a big-budget, well-crafted, soaring action film. The kind that can (and hopefully will) do well at the box office.

And sometimes, simple is good. Simple is better when something is so overwhelming, so complicated, so distant. Since less than 1% of the American population has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, this film really is as close as most people will ever get. And let’s be honest, that’s how most people would prefer it.

Most of America is tired of hearing about Iraq. But now, they’re at least open to being entertained by it. And as an activist and as a veteran, I’m OK with that. After a decade of working on veterans issues with an unprecedentedly disconnected civilian population, I’ll take it. Like Chris Kyle was, every one of America’s newest generation of 2.8 million veterans is still processing the war ourselves. And will be doing so forever. And we know that films like “American Sniper” may bring civilians closer to us than anything else.

The film exposes the incomparable distance we’ve created (and irresponsibly allowed to grow) in this country between what is now essentially a warrior class and everyone else. It’s tearing open a shameful national boil of a discussion that’s been bubbling below our collective skin for far too long. And with that, it performs an exceptionally important public service in a way only film can.

As a civilian viewer, this film will haunt you. It will leave you talking about it on the drive home. It will make you call your family members and tell them you love them. It will leave you sharing whispered conversations with your civilian friends about the violence, and asking probing (sometimes inappropriate) questions of the few veterans you may know personally. You’ll struggle to figure out how to talk to your kids about it. It’ll bother you. And worry you. For a long time. And force more questions than answers. Just like the war has for us.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 201

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Simpleignorance says:

    Actors aren’t killing themselves daily.. In fact, ‘war’ movies should END and leave the curiosity of the American people to be satisfied by walking into a recruiter’s office and accepting their fate to have those questions of theirs answered. If our society has evolved so much and everyone is so worried about violence in our society, wouldn’t one think that it would be healthy to remove the traumatic experiences of less than 1% of our population so that the other 99% eating popcorn and farting in comfortable chairs well sucking back coax and Slurpees can judge critique and belittle those that have sacrificed. Think about that folks, have we really evolved or are we only putting things in our heads that doesn’t make sense to the 99% of the population… useless fodder – Wanna c what war is like? Join… If not, go back to ‘Etv’ & check out what shade of lipstick Bruce is putting on today..

  2. Simpleignorance says:

    Routh- and some more…damned predictive text…;)

  3. Simpleignorance says:

    Bigger picture of the story is not true in itself. Eddie ray Ralph has been portrayed as a psychotic lunatic due to his PTSD. I would beg to argue that point because that individual is a delusional schizophrenic psychopath.However, the media and everyone with a set of lips is convinced from their own personal and infinite wisdom that PTSD makes people this way. It couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact, if PTSD was solely responsible for making people do delusional psychopaths, we better call in all first responders such as EMTs, firemen, policeman and I would bet my life that over 90% of these individuals themselves have PTSD. However, that fact will never be explained, looked into, nor justified. Simple ignorance of the American people is absolutely baffling when it comes to the subject of PTSD. Another grand illusion and fact that drives those of us that were there insane is the fact that the people we were fighting were allowed to use cell phones to her American servicemen. I asked the simple question why? You would think that cell phone service would be scheduled in a war zone where only the operating forces would be able to use military communication equipment, but that is another story. Overall, I agree with another writer that the movie portrayed the events and subject is too simple or for lack of term of understanding, black and white. It seems the only people that profit from our suffering are those that never go themselves. It’s the weapon engineers who designed better bombs, movie directors kama After, and politicians who seem to benefit most from it. However, the individuals that do in fact deploy and do the fighting are the only losers in it all. The most disturbing part is the American attention span would seem to never realize that American boys were dying daily and that there was in fact a war going on. Our lives are more filled with Kardashian issues, gener PP issues, and the new games on xbox. After being removed from that war 4/10 years it’s painful to see just how removed the American fighting man it is from the people we are supposed to be fighting for. Is this simple ignorance my own? Im afraid it just may be due to the fact that if I open my mouth and say the very same things, I am looked at as if I am the one that makes 0 sense. Semper Fi to all those that have posted here and care enough to share their feelings.

  4. meditu.com says:

    Hi there mates, how is everything, and what you wish for to say on the topic of this post, in my view its
    in fact awesome designed for me.

  5. Tim says:

    Terrible movie…

    Not even close…

    It portrayed things too easily…too black and white.

    Not to mention the outright BS the movie tried to cook up about Kyle being the super sniper. I was in the same areas that this movie takes place over the same periods doing a similar mission….this movie presents ridiculous scenarios and that wasn’t the nature of the fighting in al Anbar at that time…totally irresponsible simplification of the dynamics of the insurgency in Fallujah and Ramadi at that time…

    Also, how does a Syrian Sunni Arab that is a member of AQI end up in Sadr city as an operational sniper/counter sniper against the US without being shot by the locals? Clearly no research was done to even include the cultural dynamics of that war that were huge driving forces behind the sectarianism.

    God knows Americans largely don’t really give a crap enough to appreciate more than lip service to complexity…same goes for the military as well. Tired of the absolutely terrible Iraq movies that have come out…American Sniper being no exception. Of course, I suppose it breaks things down into simple soundbites so the average American can continue to ignore these problems and feign ignorance….as long as everyones feelings aren’t hurt then yaaaay!

    And yes, I’m a 3 tour veteran of that war that spent all my time on the line from joe to officer…must address this before the assured indignation begins from the “merica” crowd and they question my “patriotism”….whatever that is…

  6. Jason Taylor says:

    Do you think the movie will really leave civilians probing us for more information? I don’t think they will react the way assumed in the very last paragraph; I think the average American is so detacted from caring about military members and veterans, for what-ever reason, that they just seen the film as entertainment only, “another war-film exploiting one person’s “possible” experiences” will be their thoughts in my opinion. I absolutely loved the movie! It was the first time in a long time that I was completely silent during an entire film, but the end left me wanting more.

  7. Leo Masursky says:

    “Great film” + bogus content = don’t watch it.

  8. Josie says:

    An excellent movie about a true American hero. Kyle epitomized the sacrifice that our servicemen and women go through to fight often against some of the biggest scourges the world has produced, the Nazis, the fascists, the communists, the Taliban. The Irag War was poorly conceived, but that does not excuse the indiscriminate brutality and murderous tendencies that the Iraqi insurgents exhibited particularly against civilians. These insurgents fought without honor, which is why Kyle referred to them as savages.

    And Santa, liberal loons like you are delusional and need to get a grip on reality. I await your profanity laced response.

  9. Santa says:

    Kyle was part of the war-crime, mass-murderer, and people like him should be tried at War Crime Tribunal at Hague, of course, with entire Bush’s administration – end of story !

    • Freedom Fighter says:

      Dear Santa,
      I’m guessing you are Iranian since English is clearly not your first language. And you are so typically liberal because instead of putting forth a cogent argument you abandon all civility and sling profanity. When you say “end of story” you really mean “I have no more thoughts”.
      You condemn an American Hero because you think having an absurd opinion is cool. It is only cool to you. In fact, it occurs to me as I write this that I have just wasted my time responding to the comments of a Neanderthal, incapable of all but the simplest thoughts….would you like a banana?

      Let’s see if you can string together a longer sentence of blithering profanity.

      • Santa says:

        NO civility and debate over supremacists war-criminals and their facilitators and propagandists – end of story !
        After all I’m just commenter, same goes for you.
        Is this strange for you? Too hard to understand and accept ?
        And, yes, Eng. isn’t my first, but interestingly enough you couldn’t abstain from prescribing me ethnicity, culture and religion – all that while pertaining politeness and civility !? I mean, before your ugly racist inner beast emerged and showed its true colors !
        You see, my “polite” bigot, besides that politeness has nothing to do with intelligence and ability to contemplate and comprehend, you are not worthy of intelligent debate anyway – you are simpleminded, prejudiced bigot, however polite you may sound when you put on your mask.
        Hypocrite !

    • Ella says:

      How about we all pitch in to send you to Syria or Iraq or Iran for a few years to see how you like the view from there? Maybe when they cut out your tongue or set your head on fire, you’ll appreciate the freedoms that the Chris Kyle’s of world have had the courage to fight for, despite the personal sacrifices they and their families have had to endure. There are heroes and there are cowards in the world. Heroes are the ones who train, fight and sacrifice so that the rest of us can enjoy freedom — and specifically free speech — from the safety of our living rooms. Chris Kyle was a hero. Then there are those who enjoy and exploit those hard-won freedoms while biting the hands that bleed for them. Those are the cowards. God bless you, Chris Kyle, and your courageous family.

      • Santa says:

        I already fought in one of the worlds’ bloodiest wars since Second World War for three years, eight months and 16 days !
        I’m staunch atheist of Christian provenience myself, living in a country which majority of population are devoted Muslims !
        So, how about I I pitch my erected dick into your stupid, filthy, racist mouth, to make them little bit more useful, and you little bit smarter or less stupid ?
        Maybe, then, you will be less enthusiastic in attacking people who expressing their opinion, since you obviously don’t know any better. Cretin !

  10. Lee Peterson says:

    Mirrored my thoughts and emotional reaction to American Sniper. Truth in its simplicity.

  11. lj says:

    My heart goes out to those that serve. To Chris’ family. .I hope you have peace in your lives and thank you as well for your sacrifice. Awesome man.

  12. SSG KIT CARSON says:

    I live down here in BF Texas on top of the jury pool for Kyle’s killer. I’m worried about a fair trial. Wannabee mentality, stupidity, and lack of worldly understanding rules here. Doesn’t make me feel secure that this will be a fair hearing of the facts. I fear one horrid tragedy being followed by another.

  13. anastasia says:


    • SSG KIT CARSON says:

      A history lesson…but unnecessary. Why our military went to war is not the issue to warriors, only the how. We didn’t, we don’t and never do get to ponder the why like civilians, just how is important. The why is an issue for years later. And, is NEVER the individual responsibility of those who must do the how.

  14. Julie Fisher says:

    It is my understanding that the U.S. played a major role in putting Saddam Hussein into power and keeping him there. Later, the U.S. called him a brutal dictator (but the U.S. knew that Hussein was a brutal psycho prior to hoisting him up to his thrown in the early 60’s). It didn’t bother the U.S. how horrible Hussein was until decades later when Hussein ticked off the U.S.

    The U.S. has its own agendas, and the collateral damage to people in other countries is so often given little thought. My sense is that if Americans took the time to read history (all sides, not just the rosy Pro-U.S. version) and, thus, came to understand what the U.S. has done, including inserting OUR kind of rulers in other countries (against the will of the people within those countries), then I think Americans would be very much against most wars, and soldiers would likely insist on fighting only “just wars”, not the confusing wars we fight (for whose benefit??).

    The support that the U.S. gave to the Afghan fighters when Russia invaded that country was a disaster in the making since most Afghan fighters were being trained and armed by the U.S. (along with other countries) but so many of those Afghan fighters hate the U.S. and the West and were ready to turn on us as soon as they could (Bin Laden included).

    It seems so often that the U.S. arms one group only to have that group turn on us, but it does make for very profitable arms and other military sales around the globe…with the U.S. supplying most of it.

  15. Lodewijk says:

    Iraq never attacked the US. The US attacked Iraq with the lie that it had Weapons of Mass Destruction and was about to attack the US with them. The US then bombed Iraq to rubble, and tortured and shot anyone there -including many civilians- who were defending their country against the invading force.

    How would you feel if another country did to the US what the US did to Iraq? And would shoot you with snipers if you resisted the occupation, and called you “beasts” and “terrorists” for that?

  16. brenda titus says:

    As a mother of an OIF vet and a VA volunteer I am so thankful that this movie is so well done for civilians to watch and ..Think.. Thought it was the most accurate films done yet..seen it twice and now into the book! Thanks Paul for the work you do! Wish I was closer to a theatre where the vets are meeting feb 11th..that would’ve been awesome!

  17. Brian siefkes says:

    Well written article. I completely agree. Served Iraq 03.

  18. Julie Fisher says:

    In reading so many of the emotional responses of American Sniper, I am struck by the many who want to honor the military (a good thing, for the most part), but I am disturbed by the consistent absence of any look into the deep past as to how the MidEast acquired (was served up) their rulers, who was forced into silence (democratic uprisings for many decades failed…why? how?) and how the west played such a huge role in the divisiveness that exists in the MidEast, divisiveness not just between countries, but within countries!

    There are reasons for that…and it seems that most of the commentators don’t ask…perhaps don’t want to know…perhaps aren’t even aware that questions should be asked…but an easy start is WWI, the carving up of the losing regions, different tribes forced to live together under one new country, tribes divided by new national boundaries not of their choosing or that would make sense for a healthy, emerging democracy to flourish (why?), leaders selected without the vote of the people, and those who were elected by the people, later deposed by hands and money working from the outside, resentment growing, poverty growing, giant wealth growing for the very few (House of Saud among others), and western support of dictators who are on our side (when it suits them) but whose religious, familial, and tribal ideology is at stark odds with a democracy. Why do we support them??? Saudi Arabia is likely the most oppressive government in the region, women have almost no rights at all (except the very rich), and yet, America calls Saudi Arabia our closest ally….Why??? They are the opposite of a democracy.

    Why do I see so many comments on the praise of American soldiers, their sacrifices, the teary eyes, the sleepless nights, the agonizing sacrifices we ask of soldiers (and we do ask and they do give), but WHY NO QUESTIONS as to WHY and HOW did these MidEast countries evolve this way? Why are we always at war and our soldiers serving and dying and being damaged? What hand did Europe and American have in Shaping (and deforming) the MidEast that led us to this reality of non-stop war, decades into centuries? Why are so few people asking those questions?… especially those people who are clearly so deeply moved by the sorrows that soldiers suffer?…Don’t you want to know WHY?, HOW?, the histories???… so we can work our way to STOPPING the NEED FOR THESE WARS???? …so we can PREVENT future suffering of our soldiers who do as we ask, whenever we ask?? Or is the sorrow and emotion during and after the wars somehow all that we need to satisfy ourselves? It does Not make sense to me that so few are asking, WHY? And how can we prevent future wars? And who is WINNING these wars (because it is NOT the average citizen of the U.S. nor the average citizen of these MidEast countries and not the soldiers who have to seek charities to help them cope once (if) they return home.

    I ask these questions NOT to blame the U.S. for every religious belief, act, or cultural attitudes that existed prior to, during, and after our involvement, but only to HOLD AMERICA accountable for what WE DO to serve and also to UNRAVEL the good that MIGHT have occurred in the MidEast…IF we had acted more honorably in our support of the democratic movements that occurred in those regions in the years after WWI and WWII and were, mysteriously, UNsuccessful, with heavy handed, ultra religious or fascist leaders rising to the top…HOW? WHY? What hand did the U.S. and Europe have in that and for what aspects are we culpable for the extremism(s) we see today???

    The MidEast, Islam, and the tribalism AND FIGHTING that has existed there for thousands of years is NOT all the fault of the U.S. and Europe, but some of it is. We need to look into that and hold ourselves accountable, which is the role of responsible citizens in a democracy to do (and we are not doing it) and also the responsibility of soldiers whose duty it is to protect the Constitution…not just the party that is in power or the person at the helm at any given time. Read, learn, ask, inquire from many sources, even from those sources whom you may not entirely trust (at first), and then talk, learn more, and vote smartly. That is the way to get better politicians, to resist internal propaganda within your own country, and to put the best face of America to the world…with fewer wars, and more soldiers doing NON-war work to help our own country and other countries.

    Cry some, cry a lot…but wipe your tears and get smart…educate yourselves…ask…learn…talk..and vote smartly.

  19. Julie Fisher says:

    Dear Paul Rieckoff,

    As a civilian, I am one of the few (average civilians) who seems to have payed attention over the past several decades in the run up to the Afghan and Iraq wars, and those decades prior played a big role in how and why we ended up in those wars, but few Americans seem to know or care about history, including most vets with whom I’ve spoken (they speak very little). I’ve even been told by youngish soldiers that they don’t care about the pre-history and the uncomfortable facts about the wars because then it might make them feel awkward about the wars. That was an alarming statement for me to hear coming from soldiers of my country, and it also made me very angry. So many people have died in these wars, on both sides, and yet there seems to be little examination as to how and why the U.S. found itself in war positions in so many places, including a deep look into how Sadam Hussein got into power, stayed in power, and then was falsely targeted as one of the master minds of 9/11 (the U.S. UN-friended him??). And why did the U.S. pull out when they once had Bin Laden surrounded??
    What motive was behind that???

    I’ve never agreed with the very young going to war since they barely know who they are themselves, much less about why they should be fighting in a war at all. But I seem to be in the minority on that front, even among young soldiers who clearly were traumatized by the war(s), yet they seem unwilling to criticize the government (and the people) who sent them to these wars. My sense is that soldiers, veterans, say they feel ignored by civilians, but, from my view, it is soldiers who pull in very tightly and away from civilians, and I can understand that, to a point, but, to me, it also reflects on the mentality of the soldiers and veterans, many of whom were so young when they joined and went to war, and what they saw in war is not quite the glory hype they were sold. Is that why they don’t want to talk about it??

    Is the shock of the disparity between the pre-war preparation vs. the actual war so great that soldiers are unable to speak about it, especially to civilians??? Do soldiers feel mainly pride?? Is there mainly sadness??? Or just fear??? But is there also deep, deep doubts?? or even shame?? Ohhh, I’ve stepped in it now.. (shame??). I am daring to ask that…not to be rude, but to know if shame is a factor…for what soldiers have done or witnessed done by others, perhaps by their own comrades.

    We’ve all heard about horrible acts committed in wars, not all of them necessary to win a battle.
    Many, like me, have seen videos posted of random cruelty committed by American soldiers, often against animals, and NOT even in the heat of a battle, but just for fun…just to be cruel to something living, often something very weak and innocent, and the gleeful violence inflicted made me sick. As a civilian, I want to know why, and I want to know if those soldiers were already cruel people or if that is what war does to people. That is an important question. Maybe some people are Not fit for war because they are too cruel?? I think that is a fair question because America’s stature in the world is and has been falling, which has led to more violence against U.S. targets, and maybe some actions committed by soldiers deserve deep review, and changes to stop those behaviors and to weed such people out before they even go to war.

    War is ugly, but you would not know that if you watch American news.
    The American media sanitizes the news, promotes the flag waving and blind patriotism, the glory, but shies away from the gruesome (the gruesome reality and tragedy) and practically shuts off the cameras once the initial fighting is over and, later, the media intentionally averts its coverage of what happens in the over-time session of the wars. If it were not for ISIS, the media would not be talking about Iraq at all (probably because it was not going well even before ISIS came barging through???)

    I would love to talk to veterans about so many issues, but, it seems to me, that there is an armor guard put up to keep civilians out of the discussion, almost as if civilians are NOT worthy of having their views heard because they are not soldiers, and that civilians should not be clued in on how veterans truly feel about the wars, and not just about the experiences of it, but also their thoughts on the wisdom of the wars (if their was wisdom in those wars at all).

    Our nation is in hock to wars and the war machine that supports them, with other vital services and improvements going UN-funded due to our mega-military budget. As a civilian, I DO want to engage in discussions as to why the U.S. is spending so much money with so little results (the MidEast still seems a giant mess, and getting messier). So, is the war-first mindset really what this nation should pursue? Was war in these regions a mistake? Did the U.S. set the stage for those wars many decades prior, and should the U.S. change its approach to the MidEast?

    Even a hint of those topics drives veterans away.. hey….it drives civilians away too because any hint of doubt or serious fact checking is viewed as UNpatriotic or cowardly. so what is a civilian or soldier to do?? (how about we talk anyway??)
    But that is the problem…soldiers (as I’ve seen them) do not want to talk to civilians, and that is a huge problem for a country, and very, very dangerous for our future if we are to remain an intact society, supporting one another for moral causes (not just a war machine nation).

    And Civilians only seem comfortable mouthing patriotic “Thank Yous” to soldiers…a patterned obligation at any major gathering or event, a programmed cultural expectation, and a way to shed some shame for not serving in the military themselves…”Here’s a big VERY PUBLIC Thank You to cover our (confused) view of soldiers, and here’s a free drink too, a nice lunch, and BIG round of applause for your service”. And such public accolades are always loaded with an abundance of statements that these soldiers are protecting OUR freedoms.

    Is that really true??? Those obligatory statements always rub me raw. Were these wars REALLY about protecting OUR freedoms? Iraq never seemed an urgent threat to the U.S., even if other players may have been a very real threat. So, I am really annoyed at always hearing that ALL wars are pivotal, necessary, for “protecting the U.S. homeland”. I think many, if not most soldiers know that the “protection of our freedom” phrase is grossly over-used and often not applicable. I wonder if it annoys some soldiers as much as it does me???

    While I can deeply respect and admire the sacrifices soldiers make, I am also very suspicious of the wars, themselves, the real motives, the real goals, and I’m also deeply troubled by the actions and attitudes of many soldiers, some of whom are so young, with NO balanced education (if any education was given) about history or about foreign countries and cultures. I’ve heard it several times from young soldiers, their views of foreigners that are certainly incomplete, often wildly bigoted, sometimes downright hateful and scary. More than once I’ve heard young soldiers (before and after deployment) talk gleefully of wanting to kill as many “towel heads” as they can…with not a flinch of regret nor sense that maybe not all those covered heads belong to evil people out to destroy the U.S., and that scares the crap out of me, and reminds me far too much of vigilante mentality and of countries whose soldiers had that mindset…soldiers who in some countries later turned against their own civilians.

    Of course, I’ve heard and read about many incredible soldiers, smart, insightful, able and willing to talk about a variety of topics on war (and peace), but those are people who I have only heard from a distance or who have climbed the ranks beyond my civilian ability to engage them directly.
    Of the soldiers I know, most seem nice (even if they sometimes say very scary things or seem uninterested in the whys and hows of war), but most are just quiet, and that, to me, seems a bad thing.
    I once did get a conversation going with a veteran, but, almost instantly, the man turned hyper edgy and had to stop, I was afraid for him and even a bit for me, so even talking is often scary (for both soldier and civilian). Almost seems that an anonymous conversation might feel safer for both sides.

    American Sniper is gathering such attention, but I’ve read that the man who is the topic of this show was a man who loved to kill, just loved to shoot people, and war just gave him the freedom to do it. The descriptions I’ve heard of his mindset was one of a cold-hearted killer, a psychopath who would be considered a menace if not for his position as a very good sniper for the military. That is why I have been reluctant to add profits to this film since I do not want to glorify such a person, not matter how good his targeting may have been or for the fact that he fought on the side of the U.S.
    Do you have any information to the contrary?? Many call this man a hero, but if he just loved to kill
    and happened to be great at it, is that what makes for a hero?
    Perhaps the intel I have heard is all wrong about this sniper. I will look on more sites to see if there is a more complete (accurate) picture of this person.

    Thank you.

    • @Julie Fisher.. I would suggest you watch the movie and see for yourself.. It is a very powerful, emotional movie. I have watched it twice.. I come from a long line of military servicemen in my family. I can honestly say It does change some of them. I have to agree that sending these young men who have no idea what war is really about and what happens. It (war) plays with their psyche, the very core of who they were, and have become, what they have seen at such a tender age. they are forced to kill or be killed. At the end of the day, it’s about survival.

      Personally, I for one do not believe this man was a psyco, Nor do I believe he was a cold-hearted killer. I do however believe he struggled with what he had to do in the beginning and after he came home. He was a man devoted to helping other veterans with their inner struggles, demons, loss of fellow comrades as well as loss of limbs. That being said, I sincerely encourage you to watch the movie and judge for yourself.

  20. mothermold says:

    Guess you’d rather just wait around for a nuclear, biological or chemical attack of a HUGE kind…which is coming soon by the way…as the fool of a ? Pres we have, has made it clear he is oblivious to grave danger we are in. As General Patton would say, “the one with the stronger WILL wins the battle, not the most weopons!”. Hmmm….wake up….Islamic jihadists have THE WILL to annihilate Israel, the USA…and end western civilization permanently! Hello?

  21. James Cahill says:

    Been working wit Operation Rebound here in California as an adaptive ski instructor in Lake Tahoe. Here is my website. Please help me help heal the wounds of war with Operation Rebound.

  22. mothermold says:

    I’ll pray for you….

  23. mothermold says:

    I’ll pray for you…

  24. Bob says:

    You might want to ask Mr. Rieckhoff how he feels about “liberals” before you trash them with such jingoistic pablum.

  25. Mary Murray says:

    Best movie I have ever seen ….or will see…..in my lifetime! I’m 58 yrs old. May God Bless America….and our fearless, courageous HEROES who fight and die to preserve our freedoms….and Western civilization at this point in history!

  26. Easily the most idiotic, wandering, pandering review I’ve ever read.

    And Chris Kyle, lets never, ever forget his own words: “I wondered, how would I feel about killing someone? Now I know. It’s no big deal.” Hero? Bullshit. American Sniper is just another movie which touches our sense of the disconnected nature of modern warfare and our deep desire as a populace to justify killing from a distance while lying about our motives. Drones, cruise missiles and snipers, sent to kill people who will never know their killer, for reasons mainly traceable right back to our own hand in their arming and training.

    So I guess, if you keep that sense in mind, sure, great movie. Starts and ends just like the war, with a made up bullshit hero in the middle.

  27. Lisa A Sweet says:

    Mr. Eastwood,

    I just want you to know how much your movie “American Sniper” meant to me. I have a son who is a Captain in the Marine Corps. He has served 3 tours in Afghanistan, and is currently preparing to deploy to Jordan in early March. He will come home in June to attend the Naval post-graduate school in Monterey, California.

    Seeing “American Sniper” gave me a window into the world he has experienced. He has described both in well written emails as well as in person the environment and daily life that he experienced while serving there. Your movie really made it all come to life for me. Seeing where they sleep, the base, where they workout , hold meetings all really came to life.
    The portrayal of the experience of those deployed, as well as the impact on family life and the “re-entry “ experience is so well portrayed. I hope everyone in this country will view this movie and see the bigger picture of what is happening in our world today.
    There aren’t words to thank our Military men and women for what they do for us and for our country to protect our freedoms. We should all wake up every day thankful for what have here, and never forget the hard work our Military and their families are doing for us every single day. “American Sniper” is a tribute to all of those serving, and a wake up call for the rest of us.

    Thank you for this movie.

    Best regards,

    A Military Family

  28. Traci Cummins says:

    Very touching, great way to honor Chris Kyle ‘ s memory. God Bless our Vets. All of the ones whom have given so much along with their families. Bradley Cooper did an excellent job and Sellena Miller really did wonderful as well. You could see and almost feel Chris’ presence in this movie. Clint Eastwood outdone himself, he just keeps pushing the bar higher.
    Fantastic Film.

  29. Carmen Schnell says:

    Great Job Mr. Clint Eastwood

  30. Emma Marie says:

    American Sniper IS the best movie ever! Bradley Cooper IS the greatest actor and person EVER! Chris Kyle IS a true hero and truest American! The people who have negative comments about American Sniper need to get a hobby! GREAT JOB MR EASTWOOD!

  31. Just saw it today, with my wife. Different war from mine (Vietnam), but the stress on the individual and the family doesn’t change. My wife said it gave her a better understanding of what her previous husband (who was killed in a workplace accident) had gone through in World War II. He had told her that he expected every day to be his last.

  32. I saw Restrepo and that haunted me for weeks. Thank you for your comments on American Sniper. It took a soldier to tell the truth about this FILM.

  33. B says:

    Don’t enlist, no problems.

  34. Scott says:

    I served a year in Vietnam, the 1st half of it before I turned 18. 30 yrs later I watched the towers fall and knew my family would be scattered to the four winds. Too old to return to the military so I went to Afgh. for 2 1/2 yrs as a military contractor, setting up and maintaining FOBs, Firebases, and COPs. Each of our three children became Marines, 2 of them infantry. When I saw the scenes of Chris Kyle’s wife, I had to put my face into my jacket to muffle my crying. All I could think of was my wife, who watched her entire family go off to the business of war, and never once complained….just supported. I can’t comprehend the hell that she went through, the dread, the lonely house, the fear when the phone or the doorbell rings…We all made it back home in one piece. My gratitude for that is bittersweet as I am keenly aware of so many families less fortunate. My wife may be the bravest person I know. She is a hero, by EVERY measure! The experience of a war zone is incommunicable to anyone who has not been there, period. The experience of watching someone you love go off to a war zone is equally incommunicable. Our 1st child to deploy, did so months after I returned home. It was at the airport as I watched him walk away that I understood what my wife had been through…Our troops and their families are the best people that America produces. That is no slam to the rest of America, great people there too. But the best….I’ve been with both…there’s no question. Sorry for your luck, Michael Moore and those like you….in that cynical self-serving little world of yours, the concept of heroism is incommunicable. Godspeed to the military and their families and close friends. That is all.

  35. John says:

    In my opinion American Sniper is the best film of the year.

  36. ompasikom says:

    Yup, simple is good. It’s not good to think of complicated stuff. Just trust whatever Fox tells you. don’t think! Simple is good.

    • Mary Murray says:

      Fool man…Fox News is the ONLY network providing FAIR AND BALANCED NEWS!!!

      • Bob says:

        FOX “News” is neither fair nor balanced – it’s barely even news. The fact that you regurgitated their tag line like a good little sheep tells me everything I need to know.

    • Denny says:

      Is that a caricature of Woody Allen on your pic? It’s appropriate. Sniveling, whiny little turd. Simple? So is E=MC-2. We’re all born, we’re all gonna die. Simple.

      Having the capacity and willingness to imagine a world beyond our own fear and self-pity is pretty simple — in theory. The courage in life is facing the Great Paradox head-on: Sure, it’s simple/straightforward but complicated as hell at the same time to actually make it work and give it meaning. That’s what Paul is writing — this “simple” movie is but one of many steps moving forward in greater understanding of what Iraq has meant to so many people. You don’t seem willing to get beyond the first step as evidenced with your sarcasm — and what’s with another liberal dig at FOX news? I guess that’s the speed of you and your hero — didn’t he so “brilliantly” intone that the only good thing about California is that you can make a right turn on a red light?

  37. An honest, well written review from someone who served in the same war as Chris Kyle…thank you, Mr Rieckhoff, for sharing your thoughts, and for serving your country in a way that most of us never could or would.

    I feel a sense of obligation to view the documentaries you listed. After everything that you and your fellow servicemen and women have sacrificed, it seems a very small and simple thing…I give more than enough of my time to the usual Hollywood/TV tripe, might as well take in some honest and meaningful depictions now and then.

  38. Gayle L says:

    —-I haven’t seen “American Sniper”…..and don’t think I ever will; NOT that I am not certain it is an incredibly realistic portrayal of the brutality of war—but because of it.

    —My son finished college at The Citadel. He is now in Ranger training for the Army Special Forces. He is a 2nd Lt…..and if the Middle East continues to roil….the war of “American Sniper” may become HIS war…..It frightens me.

  39. brad says:

    I saw it and was amazed how realistic it was. It pulled me in and made me proud and sad and all the emotions inbetween.

  40. Rick says:

    Excellent write-up. I guess I’ll have to go and see the film.

  41. Airwrecka Whatever says:

    Saw American Sniper just yesterday, since I wanted to see for myself what all the fuzz was about.
    Gotta say, its a pretty decent action movie. But thats kinda it…

    Ive gotta admit, Im a pacifist myself, so glorifying Chris Kyle as a hero isnt really my thing.
    First of all, since the movie obviously only shows the most unquestionable kills he probably made I still find it horrifying to see the character shoot a 10yo kid carrying a grenade. True, he would have probably done what his mother told him to and carried out the attack, but wouldnt shooting his leg and make him trip have done the same job in the end? Might be my misconception of sniper training and his abilities but it sure makes me think… (same goes for the kid picking up the RPG… why wait for him to touch the trigger and not shoot the ground next to him to try and scare him off?!)

    Second, I cannot ignore all this talk about ‘savages’ and it being their fault for staying in the evacuated city… reminds me a lot of those wikileaks videos from gunship pilots talking about kids they killed (‘its their fault for bringing their kids into battle’)… I get where all this comes from, since Eastwood directed it but I sure as hell cant pronounce someone a hero by taking an action movie for reference.

    In the end I can only suggest one watches some documentaries about the impact on the Iraqi and Afghan population to see what all this fighting has actually done for them… But I guess Im just an optimist if Id hope thats what even half those movie-goers would be going to do…

  42. Tresa Sauer says:

    Saw American Sniper this weekend. The audience clapped when it was over and left in silence. We both wanted to cry our eyes out. My husband said the movie made him ‘feel like a pussy.’ Me, too – and I’m a 54-year old woman. I had aggressive, violent nightmares two nights in a row afterward. To say I was affected by the film is an understatement. Anyone calling Chris Kyle anything less than an American hero simply lives in their own little personal Candyland. I’m glad Hollywood was able to produce such a powerful reproduction of a real story about real people — a man, his wife and two children who made the ultimate sacrifice. We Americans play video games from couches, shoveling nachos in our faces, so far removed from the realities of war. It does not surprise me there are people offended by the truth. Whether or not we should’ve been in Iraq are entirely irrelevant here. Fact is, we were there.

    • david says:

      You talk the hype on the word savage that Chris comments. Berry you continue with that thought I dare you to see the commentary video of a soldier that was there and what happened recently and maybe you will understand savages. Go to to breitbart.com/tag/american-sniper/

  43. Daniel says:

    Correction – While individuals unafraid to speak the truth, others like Pope Francis, remind or tell that other´s religions must be respected.

  44. Daniel says:

    Actually, talking about probing topics is a difficulty only North Americans have. People who have experienced war first-hand, do not have reservations about these themes.
    Americans are like infants, emotionally. They cannot have open discussions about social-class, or war, without the fear of being personally judged. So they do one of two things. They bray and speak loudly, like a war-cry, their views, to not be over-spken and try to claim some rightfulness in their excessive volumen – volumen in decibals can be replaced by volume in numbers with social media- Or, they profess what hey think more maturer nations would believe and parrot them. As in the ridiculous Thedbo case. While individuals unafraid to speak the truth, Like Pope Francis, remind or tell that other´s religions must be respected.

    So in the final paragraph of this review, it is only the Us citizens who will not know how to answer those questions. But it is no mystery. People go to war to kill. They want the experience of killing. And use safety of a nation as an excuse to join a group committed to a final goal. Not of saving people. They could collectively build schools, lay oil and wáter pipes, etc., with the same invested financial back-up of their government. But instead, they, in their weakness of not knowing who they should become, choose to kill and know themselves in a new way.

    But they are too cowardly to admit this.

    I am so sick of soldiers and the military anywhere.

    – Colombia, South America.

    • Wysiwyg Mtwzzyzx says:

      It is quite different to go out with the intent to kill people who have done nothing to you, but are different- Christian or Jewish or Hindu, and going out with the intention to kill those people. Perhaps living in a perpetually drug war torn nation has left you incapable of seeing the distinction, but it is a critical distinction indeed.

      The courageous go out to protect others when the brash and foolish come out to prey on the sheep. Never mistake brashness for courage.

      • That's that's just like, you know, your opinion, man. says:

        This is the type of nonsense that vets can’t stand. Civilians attempting to commentate on the military, what happens in combat zones, and what the military does when they are woefully ignorant about it.

        Well, allow me to retort. One, the military, especially the US’s, is one of the global primary disaster responders. So much in fact that its humanitarian efforts and capabilities (both local and global) dwarf any civilian equivalent. Secondly, schools and public works? That’s one of the primary responsibilities besides security in current and past warzones. The US Military built countless schools, roadways (which was a big deal in Afghan), and massively built up both Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s infrastructure.

        Outside of complaining from behind a keyboard about organizations and individuals who have actively helped people globally, what have you done? Probably nothing. Keep that hippie nonsense to yourself

  45. Jack Davis says:

    Wish I could write like Mr. Rieckhoff.

    • Mary says:

      “Keep that hippie nonsense to yourself”
      But Sir, you went into combat to defend my freedoms, including the right to free political speech.
      I like that our military makes humanitarian efforts. And if that’s all they did, I’d be 100% in support. But there is plenty that should be questioned. Including.. what is the point of building up infrastructure that isn’t really valued? Schools are nice, but they don’t seem to have transformed Afghanistan, nor save Iraq from further crisis.

  46. Tanya says:

    The American Ernesto Che Guevara

  47. MW says:

    The best film about Iraq was “Collateral Murder.”

  48. A superb review, thank you.

    A driven protagonist, frightening obstacles, clearly evil antagonists, an attractive love interest, and satisfying character arc — all the essential elements of great story telling. And all masterfully delivered by the cast and crew of a compelling script; the life of an American Sheepdog.

    What strikes the pitch-perfect cord for me, and why I think the film has so resonated with us nationally, is we are a nation of Sheepdogs, which is a blessing to the world when we get it right and a tragedy when we get it less right. Because we admire and almost worship sheepdogs. Because most of us see a sheep reflected in the mirror.

    Yet why American Sniper’s story? Why now?

    Simple. International Islam is not, for whatever reasons, either defending itself against the killers who are hijacking it (if you hold the ‘religion of peace’ meme), or Islam true nature is finding its voice and our secular, Western civilization is under assault. Granted, American Sniper is NOT political; it’s a biopic of a Navy Seal and his family’s struggles. But its context is what will occupy the attention of the next two generations if Islam cannot police itself.

    The protagonist in American Sniper was not killing ‘violent extremists’ — but normal, routine, observant, rational-within-their-insane-theology Muslims, building their messianic caliphate.

    Thanks to Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama, we have some two million millennial-generation sheepdogs who are now familiar with Muslim wolves, and the sect of Islam that is incompatible with modernity.

    Our job, politically, is sort wolves from sheep correctly. If Islam won’t stop breeding wolves, we’ll have to deal with it sooner or later

    Oh — there are other threats besides radicalized Muslims. We’re a nation divided over how we’ll feed, clothe, educate, and shepherd our sheep. But the long war is with Islam.

    And respect and care for our sheepdogs, thank them for their service.

    • Michele says:

      Really well written response, and a penetrating observation that these are actually ordinary adherents to Islam, and not necessarily extremists at all. That’s actually a frightening but rational conclusion, based on the response or more appropriately lack of outrage to their brothers’ and sisters’ violent actions.

  49. john says:

    Thank you Paul Rieckhoff for this review.
    Thank you Chris kyle. Chris Kyle is a HERO.
    Thank you Clint Eastwood and Thank you Bradley Cooper.
    American Sniper is the best film of the year.

    • Linda Hardy says:

      What an incredible film (thanks to Eastwood) and a spot-on portrayal of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper should win an Oscar for this). At the end of the movie – as the credits rolled without background music -there was complete silence throughout the theater. People slowly made their way out – many wiping their eyes. A great review from Paul Rieckhoff!

  50. oif vet says:

    Snipers are not cowards¡!!!!!!!for every enemy they shoot in the back/front/side..they save 10 soldiers/marines/sailors and airman..to all the american snipers..thank you for getting me home…

More Film News from Variety