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Film / American Sniper

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"There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs."

American Sniper (2014) is a war movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

The film is based on the autobiography of the same name by Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who achieved fame (and infamy) for becoming the most lethal sniper in US military history. The film follows him through his four tours in Iraq and depicts his struggle to balance his single-minded mission to protect US military personnel with his desire to be a good husband and father.

The movie was given a limited release on December 25 and a wide release on January 16. To the surprise of many, (including the film's director) the film went on to become a major runaway success at the box office. Going on to become the highest grossing war film of all time, and Eastwood's highest-grossing film to date. However, it also drew considerable controversy over its depiction of both the Iraq war and Chris Kyle. The trailer can be seen here.

This film provides examples of:

  • Age Lift: Kyle, stated to be 30 prior to 9/11, is aged about five years.
  • American Title: It starts out as a mix between the "wholesome or free-spirited" and "only describes a nationality" varieties, and ends up as a subversive variety as you realize just how haunted Kyle is from the war.
  • America Saves the Day: The film only shows Kyle's tours with his American buddies, while the time he spent with the Polish GROM forces in the book is omitted.
  • Anti-Climax: Kyle's story. Surviving through four tours of war and being able to recuperate and return back to society, only to be killed by a veteran he was trying to help at stateside.
  • Artistic License History:
    • "Mustafa" and "The Butcher" play no significant role in Kyle's autobiography. Mustafa is believed to have existed, though whether or not Chris Kyle killed him is unconfirmed. The Butcher is an entirely fictitious creation (though he may be loosely based upon the Shia warlord Abu Deera who was known for killing with a drill).
    • During BUD/S training for Kyle, Ryan Jobs (Biggles) is seen training with him. In the book, Biggles was introduced as a "new SEAL" by Kyle's third deployment and not mentioned at all in his experience in BUD/S.
    • Marc Lee in the film he appears during Kyle's first tour in Iraq, but he wasn't part of Kyle's team until his third tour according to the book.
    • Kyle's first tour is depicted in the film with him already gone through sniper school and in Fallujah. Kyle's first tour was really him as a regular special force operator working with GROM and with relatively little activity in Iraq. He goes through sniper school between the first and second deployment and to Fallujah during his second tour.
    • In the film, Kyle's first kills are a child and his mother who tried to attack American soldiers with a grenade. In reality, he killed a woman who had her child with her, but he didn't kill the child.
    • In a case where Kyle is accused of shooting an innocent civilian, he is seen being briefed by a Marine Captain, whereas in the book he was assigned and briefed by the US Army. The whole scene is also toned down to a simple pep talk in place of the actual three days stand down.
    • The Marine who refused to come down with Kyle from his sniping position to aid the Marines fighting in the city never occurred. The only interaction Kyle did with the Marine was trade rifles in the book.
    • In the film, Kyle says that Marc's last letter, where he started questioning the war led to his death. In the book, Kyle calls it "an incredible letter" which - while describing bad things - is also "full of hope and encouraging all of us to do some small part for others."
    • Biggles died after Kyle's retired from the Navy, not during his fourth tour.
  • Arrow Cam: When Chris shoots Mustafa, the camera follows the bullet in flight.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: In a scene at his house, Chris playfully points a gun at his wife and tells her "drop them drawers". This is a blatant violation of the most basic rules of gun safety, as one should never point a gun at another person except in self defense, regardless of whether or not the gun is loaded.
  • Ascended Extra: Mustafa. In the book, he was only mentioned once as a minor concern. In the film, he is one of the major antagonists that Kyle faces in Iraq.
  • As Himself: Kevin "Dauber" Lacz plays as himself in Kyle's story.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Kyle notes that the Iraqi man who allows them to stay in his house is probably an insurgent by sores on his elbows. Kyle investigates his house and confirms this when he discovers a large stash of weapons hidden.
  • Badass Boast: "I'm better when it's breathing."
  • Big Bad: "The Butcher" is this for the first half of the film, with Mustafa as The Dragon.
  • Based on a True Story: The movie is based on the autobiography of the real Chris Kyle.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Kyle has this for his little brother, which later hits him hard when he realizes his brother is deploying into Iraq.
  • Black-and-White Morality: In-universe, this is how Kyle views warfare. He sees the Iraqis he shoots as "savages" and himself as a force for good. Whether or not the film shares his view is the source of a lot of controversy. Although Clint Eastwood, despite being a Republican, opposed the Iraq War.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Occurring from deliberate sniper fire to random machine gunning. Mustafa is introduced by head-shooting a US Marine. An insurgent from a car is offed this way by a M2 Browning. Marc Lee and Mustafa are killed this way too.
  • The Butcher: One of Kyle's Al-Qaeda nemeses, known for torturing people with power drills, has this title.
  • Call-Back: A young Chris Kyle in the beginning is taught by his father to "never leave his rifle in the dirt". In his last tour, Kyle leaves behind his sniper rifle as he is extracted.
  • Character Development: The first time a squad of soldiers are checking for suspected insurgents they're all twitchy and nervous, using excessive force. During Kyle's second tour they're fairly clinical about it. The patriarch of the house they search even invites them to dinner. Of course, anyone who saw the movie knows how that went.
  • Children as Pawns: While covering a patrol squad advancing along an Iraqi street, sniper Chris Kyle notices a woman and her child in a doorway, watching the American squad intently. The woman then issues the boy, about eight, a grenade to throw at the Americans. Despite personal misgivings, Kyle knows the rules of engagement: those wielding a firearm or ordnance are hostile combatants, and therefore a fair target. Kyle drops the boy before he can toss the grenade.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: While hunting for the "Butcher", Kyle stumbles upon a room where men are being tortured.
  • Cold Sniper: Mustafa not only targets American soldiers during live missions, but also shoots engineers trying to assemble a fortification. He also distributes filmed footage (or is connected to a distributor of footage) of his kills, one of which is shown in very graphic detail.
  • Comically Missing the Point: During the first mention of Mustafa:
    Marine: Man, they got this one sniper that's been hitting headshots from 500 yards (450 m) out. They call him "Mustafa", he's in the Olympics.
    Kyle: They've got sniping in the Olympics now?
  • Cool Guns: Being an autobiographical war film dedicated to the deadliest sniper of the 21th century, you can imagine there's quite a few of these.
    • First we have Kyle's signature Mcmillan TAC-338A rifle, outfitted with a Leupold Mark 4.
    • During Kyle's first tour in Iraq, he uses a SOCOM MK13, chambered with 300 Winchester Magnum rounds. It's tricked out with a Nightforce NXS scope, harris bipod, MIRS night vision rail, Knight's Armament M110 supressor.
    • A US Delta Force Sniper can be seen using a M24A1 Sniper Rifle.
    • A Marine Recon Scout Sniper that accompanies Kyle on a mission in Iraq uses a M40A3 Sniper Rifle while taking out insurgents in Sadr City.
    • The Mk 12 Mod 1 Special Purpose Rifle shows up in the hands of some SEALs throughout the movie.
    • Kyle's arch nemesis Mustafa, uses a SVD Dragunov as his rifle of choice.
    • As a young boy, Kyle and his dad used Remington 700's while out hunting.
    • The Marines in Fallujah all carry standard issue M16A4's.
    • Kyle and many of his fellow SEALs use tan-painted Mk 18 Mod 0 CQB carbines.
    • The M4A1 shows up plenty of times, mostly in the hands of Army troops, Private Military Contractors, etc.
    • The Mk 48 Mod 0 is used by Kyle's fellow Navy SEALs "Biggles", and Marc Lee.
    • At least one Marine can be seen using a M249 SAW.
    • Chris Kyle carries a Single Action Army during the "drop them drawers" scene.
  • Cowboy: Chris Kyle was one of these before joining up with the Navy SEALs.
  • Death from Above: The trailer shows a Marine Corps AH-1W attack helicopter firing on an insurgent position.
  • Death of a Child: Iraqi kids in this movie don't fare well.
  • Death Seeker: Taya thinks Kyle is becoming this from his frequent deployment to Iraq. Chris assures her he isn't.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Kyle returns safely from Irak, adapts to civilian life and finally becomes a family man. He's then murdered, offscreen, by a deranged veteran he was trying to help and briefly introduced in the final scenes.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Kyle managed to pull this off without being a creepy stalker. His persistence in leaving many messages on Taya's answering machine eventually landed him a date.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: The Kyle brothers' father was a very firm sort of parent. During his "sheep, wolf, and sheepdog" lesson where he's teaching them how to fight the wicked, he takes off his belt and places it on the dining room table suggestively while mentioning that they'll be in a lot of trouble if he sees them turning into wolves.
  • Downer Ending: Kyle and a friend of his were murdered by a fellow soldier also suffering from PTSD. However, many attend his funeral and honor him as a hero.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Kyle is so feared and hated by the insurgents that Al-Qaeda in Iraq offers a large prize to anyone who can kill him.
    • "Mustafa", a Syrian Olympic-medal winning sniper who works for the Taliban, terrorizes the coalition forces with deadly accuracy.
    • Local Iraqis live in fear of "The Butcher", an al-Qaeda enforcer known to torture and kill people with a power drill.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: A meta version, as Bradley Cooper has stated that much of the discussion over the film (especially criticism) has ignored its main point.
    "We looked at hopefully igniting attention about the lack of care that goes to vets. Discussion that has nothing to do with vets or what we did or did not do, every conversation in those terms is moving farther and farther from what our soldiers go through, and the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide each day."
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: After surviving four tours in Iraq, Kyle is killed by a veteran he was trying to help. That's how it really happened, but the film doesn't even depict his death, only informing the viewer with text.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Kyle is part of the US Navy SEALs. Later on in the film's climatic battle, he and his squad team up with members of Delta Force and Marine Force Recon.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Ryan Jobs as "Biggles," earned for his big physique.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: One focused on a UAV, then dragging all the way across a city landscape to the target building on Chris's fourth tour.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: The Butcher's car explodes after being shot by Kyle.
  • Evil Counterpart: Mustafa, the highly-skilled Syrian al-Qaeda sniper who is present at the scene of a number of Kyle's missions, kills one of Kyle's closest friends, and is specifically tasked with killing Kyle himself. He also seems to oppose Kyle in every way save his skill as a sniper; while Kyle will sit and wait for hours while on watch, Mustafa will instead tend to set up very rapidly, kill some American soldiers in succession and leave as quickly as he came.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Butcher has a pretty deep voice.
  • Famed in Story: Word of Kyle's accomplishments as a sniper spread quickly amongst the military, eventually earning him the nickname "Legend."
  • Footsie Under the Table: Taya tries to do this to Kyle, but has difficulty trying to reach him with her pregnant belly and the large table.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Most people who have read Kyle's book or have seen the news stories will know he was eventually shot and killed by a fellow veteran.
  • Foreshadowing: In an early scene, Marc states he wouldn't willingly clear houses because of how dangerous it is. He's later killed doing just that.
  • Friendly Sniper: In sharp contrast to Mustafa, Kyle has an obvious and genuine camaraderie with his fellow soldiers and is generally a nice guy, although there's an element of deconstruction in how his PTSD is affecting his civilian life. He also is only shown targeting foes who are actively attacking or trying to ambush US soldiers, unlike Mustafa who targets anyone in a US uniform.
  • Fog of War: Marc says this when an Iraqi neighborhood starts massive demonstrations against the Americans after Kyle's team successfully attacked an insurgent's location.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The American forces are chasing Al Zarqaui, 1st Emir of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but they only reach two of his subordinates, "The Butcher" and Mustafa, the sniper.
  • Gun Porn: It's a war film, so it's almost a given that this trope is in play. One such example comes up when Chris and his squad is inside a man's house and they find this stash.
  • Hand Signals: Kyle uses these when he is with the Marines in the cities, confusing one Marine who didn't understand.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Kyle noticeably bristles whenever someone refers to him as a hero. Turns out, as he confesses to the therapist, he's wracked with guilt over the soldiers he couldn't save.
  • How We Got Here: The movie begins with Kyle on his first tour, forced to decide whether or not to shoot a woman and child who are a potential threat to nearby US troops. It then flashes back and covers Kyle's entire backstory, from childhood up till the moment the movie opens with.
  • The Hero Dies: Kyle comes home from war, only to be killed by a disturbed veteran at the end.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • While still showing him as a hero with flaws, the film omits some of Kyle's unpalatable opinions from the book. For example, the film presents him as a dutiful soldier who only kills to save lives, while in the book he shows Blood Knight tendencies and talks about how killing the enemy could be fun.
    • Kyle is frequently shown in the film as being uncomfortable with his status as a hero and being quite humble about his accomplishments. The real-life Kyle was described by those who knew him as a braggart, who also had a reputation for making up absurd stories about himself. He exaggerated his already impressive military record and medal count, claimed to have killed some men who tried to steal his car and also claimed he killed looters during Hurricane Katrina. A few months before his death, he was sued by Jesse Ventura over the dubious claim that he'd punched out the former SEAL for publicly celebrating the death of American servicemen at a fellow veteran's wake. Ventura ultimately received an undisclosed settlement from Kyle's estate.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In a milder tone, the first Marine partner with Kyle is more Jerkassy than he is in the book.
  • Hope Spot: When Kyle starts helping out fellow veterans with PTSD, you think that he'll start to come to terms with the war and achieve inner peace. And then a bit of text pops up revealing that he was killed by another PTSD-stricken veteran.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Chris professes no remorse for what he did to save American lives.
  • Important Haircut: Kyle grows a beard after he goes to war. Once he's back in civilian life for good, he cuts it down to a doorknocker-style goatee. In reality, however, from the photos in his book, he doesn't have such a thick beard during his deployment and it only appears after he retires from the Navy.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Kyle's skills as a sniper, but the crowning moment is when he targets Mustafa, who is about 2100 yards (1900 m) away (about 1.3 miles!) and nails him.
  • Insistent Terminology: According to Biggles, there is a big difference from comic books and the graphic novel he is reading.
  • In the Back: The Butcher dies this way, shot while trying to flee from Kyle's team in his car.
  • Irony: Chris Kyle is shot and killed by a soldier he was trying to help treat his PTSD.
  • Killed Offscreen: Kyle himself, last seen leaving with Eddie Ray Routh followed by onscreen text informing us that Routh murders him later that day.
  • Le Parkour: Mustafa gets around the urban cities this way.
  • Mirror Character: Mustafa to Kyle. Both are expert marksman, both serve for a cause (U.S. for Kyle, al-Qaeda for Mustafa), both are actively hunting each other and, as a scene shows, both have a wife and child back at home.
  • Mood Dissonance: This poster featuring Kyle reuniting with his wife, below the tagline "The most lethal sniper in U.S. history."
  • My Greatest Failure: Kyle's first encounter with the Butcher, in which he let him get away, was unable to stop him from torturing and killing a child with a drill and failed to kill Mustafa despite having a clear shot at him. This motivates him to lead an operation to hunt him down during his next tour.
  • Never Found the Body: Mentioned by Kyle about his "confirmed" kills.
    Kyle: I got 6... Well, that's not true. I got 8, but they dragged two off.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Kyle delivers one to a bully messing with his little brother.
  • No Sympathy: It's painfully obvious to the audience that Kyle is suffering from PTSD, yet his wife seems to either not care or not notice, thinking he's choosing to be aloof and distant. It's unclear whether she even knows what PTSD is, since at that time the condition was only just starting to be widely discussed.
  • Pet the Dog: Kyle and the others are invited to dinner with an Iraqi family. Subverted when Kyle realizes that the patriarch is an insurgent with a cache of hidden weapons.
  • Private Military Contractors: A number of Private Military contractors show up during Kyle's various tours of duty in Iraq. In a rare twist, they are presented in a heroic light for once. Aiding the American forces in firefights against the insurgents.
  • Psycho Sidekick: Kyle's first Marine partner in his sniping hide. He seems to be fascinated at some of Kyle's carnage, like shooting a kid carrying a grenade and his mother and watching a suicide bomb car go up. He crosses the line for Kyle when he refuses to come down and support the Marines down in the city.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Despite orders not to shoot, Kyle snipes Mustafa, avenging his friends, which alerts the insurgent forces in the area to their position and nearly gets them all killed in the ensuing firefight before an extraction team arrives.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: After one of Kyle's fellow SEALs is grievously wounded by Mustafa, Kyle and the rest of his equally livid platoon decide to go back into town for some "payback". Major Ass-kicking ensues.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Kyle leaves behind his sniper rifle after killing Mustafa, signifying his willingness to end his military career.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: Despite Taya telling him that he's already sacrificed enough for his country and his family needs him, Kyle keeps going back to fight in Iraq because his buddies' lives depend on his unique skills. If he isn't there, more of them will die, and despite saving so many lives he blames himself for every death he fails to prevent.
    Kyle: The thing that... haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save. Now I'm willing and able to... be there but I'm not, I'm here, I quit.
    Navy Doctor: You can walk down any hall in this hospital. Looks like plenty soldiers need saving.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Kyle is supposed to stay on sniper overwatch duty, but goes down to clear houses with Marines when he figures he can be more help to them down there than on sniper duty.
  • Semper Fi: Kyle's platoon work alongside The US Marines on almost every single one of his deployments. What's more, Kyle's brother is a Marine himself.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Kyle when he returns from Iraq, due largely to his inability to save everyone he feels he could have. After leaving the SEALs, he makes it a personal mission to help fellow veterans who suffer from PTSD.
  • Shoot the Dog: Kyle is faced with this prospect twice as children take up RPGs and grenades against US troops.
  • Short-Range Long-Range Weapon: When Kyle moves from his sniping position to be with the US Marines performing CQB in the city, he still uses his SR-25 sniper rifle indoors. This is fixed in later scenes with him carrying his own Mk.18 carbine
  • Show, Don't Tell: Chris' PTSD is shown with extreme subtlety, initially just by his aloof attitude at home and continuing obsession with the war, then his tense reactions in a doctor's office causing the doctor obvious concern (though she never says what she's worried about, she just asks for his blood pressure), then with "triggers" in his environment which directly correlate with previous events in the film (i.e. The Butcher's drill to power tools in an auto shop, the rabid dog on the rooftop to the playful dog at the party, etc.),yet at no point does anyone actually mention that it might be PTSD. The same goes for Chris' brother and the vet who eventually kills him.
  • Sigil Spam: The Punisher logo that was adopted by Seal Team 3 "Cadillac". During Kyle's second deployment, the team only has the logo painted on mounted gun shields. Come his third deployment, nearly every part of their gears have the logo, from the both sides of their vests to each individual magazine.
  • Sniper Duel: A central facet of the movie's depiction of Kyle's time in Iraq; Mustafa is not only shooting American soldiers, he's after Kyle for the $180K bounty on his head, while Kyle is after Mustafa for shooting two of his fellow SEALs.
  • Suicide Attack: A car filled with enough explosives to disintegrate itself hurtles itself toward a patrol of Marines. Kyle takes care of it with ease and preventing harm.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Chris's father lectures him that there are three kinds of people: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.
  • Torture Cellar: One is found in the Butcher's hideout, containing severed heads and a tortured corpse dangling from the ceiling.
  • Training from Hell: The Navy SEAL's BUD/S that Kyle goes through to become a SEAL.
  • Urban Warfare: Most of the battles are set in cities.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Even a cursory reading of Chris Kyle's autobiography will reveal a good deal of the film's events are just plain made up.
  • War Is Hell: The film pulls no punches in showing how PTSD is affecting Kyle in his private life, and we also see him interacting with disabled veterans. Being placed in situations where he has to target (and sometimes kill) children also traumatizes him.
  • Weather of War: A huge sandstorm foils the attempt to call in a missile strike on the position held by Kyle and his fellow SEALs but also provides enough cover for the SEALs to escape the firefight.
  • Wham Line:
    • Kyle was killed the same day by a veteran he was trying to help.
    • "Biggles is gone, Chris."
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The Butcher uses his drill to cripple and then kill the son of a man who informs on him to the US forces.
    • Kyle's first kill is a child who was preparing to ambush an American patrol with an anti-tank grenade.
    • Later on, Kyle nails an enemy hoisting an RPG launcher. A boy next to him nearly finishes the job and Kyle nearly shoots him. The scene lasts longer than a minute for dramatic effect. But the child reconsiders and flees. Kyle's relieved. Just cause he could doesn't mean he "wanted to".