American Sniper

January 9, 2015

I watched this movie for a laugh. I don’t care that the main character sniper dude kept a satellite phone to talk with his significant other back home while he was in the field, nor why every pleasant call was more of an omen for bad shit to happen — a sort of ham-fisted reminder of how this man, with a rifle and training to kill unsuspecting people, was making the ultimate sacrifice of his own personal comfort to protect his family and country. This movie is so absurd that I’m just going to spoil the entire thing. It’s supposedly based off a true story anyway, but it seems like one of those stories that is wholly unverifiable.

The movie’s opening words were “Allahu akbar.” That’s quite ominous for your average red-blooded American conservative, who the movie quickly makes apparent it’s trying to seduce. Our protagonist is a good ol’ boy southerner — an every man. He lives, loves, laughs, drinks a little, and signs up for the military. America is a greatest country on Earth, and its might makes right in a world of uncertainty. The countryside beyond America’s borders is a dense, foreboding jungle, and only the American soldier’s machete can tame the path to El Dorado.

Our hero has been killing since childhood. Moments before taking the life of an Iraqi child who has been coaxed by a woman to carry and throw an anti-tank grenade at Americans, the film having reeled you in, you are quickly launched back to our hero’s childhood — his first kill, a deer.

Our hero’s family are God-fearing Texans. As a child, our hero has “the gift of aggression.” His father raised him to do what’s right, to stop cruelty wherever it is. To protect his brother from schoolyard cruelty, our young hero breaks a meanie bully’s nose.

The movie then jumps to his young adulthood. The whole film is like that — just jumping from here to there. It’s two hours long, but it would need at least another forty-five minutes to establish a tempo that makes sense. Anyway, one night as young-adult rodeo hooligan, drunk off his ass, our hero sees a TV report about the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Kenya. What seems like the very next day, he walks into a military recruitment center, signing up for the Navy, even though he makes it clear he has a complete disinterest in water.

We’re quickly sent to Coronado — the city in San Diego’s harbor whose military base hilariously has some old barracks shaped like swastikas. Our hero is training for Naval Special Warfare. Moments later, after some flutter kicks and questionable racism, we’re at the bar. Our hero’s now a Navy Seal, a sniper, a defender of the Greatest Country on Earth, and down to fuck that brunette chick over there.

Immediately it’s September Eleventh. The world’s changed. He knows he’s headed somewhere, but I didn’t expect it to be the bedroom. Our hero and the chick he picked up at the bar promise to marry one another. At their marriage, his Seal platoon mates are smashing beers, cheering about getting their official call to war that day. Our hero flashes the Naval Special Warfare pin under his tuxedo.

Mustafa — we’re in Iraq. There’s an enemy sniper who can score a headshot from five hundred yards out. But first, we have to finish killing that kid from the beginning of the film. The child’s body falls. The woman picks up the fallen child’s anti-tank grenade. She throws it — too short, no effect. She’s killed. Their lives are over in an instant.

VBIED! One shot, one kill. A black-clad man digging a hole for an IED. One shot, one kill. Man running across street with rifle. One shot, one kill. Every kill pains our sniper hero. He doesn’t enjoy what he’s doing, but his friends rely on him; his country relies on him; his God relies on him.

The camera reveals Mustafa — a thin man with a stubbly beard, moving by darkness like a tai-chi dancer, killing Marines from the shadows. One shot, one kill. He’s an Olympic Gold Medalist marksman from Syria.

Our hero and his wife, now with child, converse via satellite phone. He’s distant. It’s not fair to her that she’s assembling their child’s crib alone. He doesn’t want to talk. He finds out his younger brother signed up for the Marines and has been deployed to Hell, too.

The next day our hero’s out on a rooftop and sees an injured Marine. He’s disgusted with himself. He couldn’t save that man. He neglects his job as their overwatch to clear houses with those Marines, to teach them how to do their job properly.

Our hero wants to be a martyr. He’s a paternalist. He’s hurting inside. He knows he’s doing the Lord’s work, so why isn’t everything going better? Why is God testing him?

Moving out in a convoy, acting on some human intelligence collected during the house clearing, our hero answers his phone. It’s his wife. Their child’s going to be a boy. Before he could smile, the dastardly Mustafa takes aim and fires, killing their lead vehicle’s driver. The city street erupts in gunfire. It’s an ambush. Americans are being killed as they bail from their vehicles and our hero is powerless to save them. He leaves his satellite phone in the street to answer the call of duty.

Insurgents are threatening women and children as he kicks down a door to the roof of a building to gain higher ground. Mustafa was waiting for him, and fires. The round ricochets off our hero’s helmet as he falls to the ground. He’s never felt so weak in his life. He’s powerless. He indiscriminately fires at rooftops until being called back to base.

There’s going to be an investigation into the ambush. His unit’s going home. He spends the remainder of his time in Iraq quietly lifting weights.

When he arrives home, his hands look different. He doesn’t recognize them anymore. His wife doesn’t recognize them anymore. He can’t focus on anything, constantly in a haze, zoned out. He doesn’t want to do anything. His momentary powerlessness in Iraq changed him. For some fleeting fun during his wife’s gynecological visit, the OB/GYN takes our hero’s blood pressure — it’s very high.

His home life suffers. He watches war videos off LiveLeak on the livingroom television. Those Iraqis are fucking savages, he says. There’s a war going on. His friends are dying while he’s safe at home. His wife goes into labor during one of their arguments.

As soon as the child comes home, our hero heads back to Iraq. He’s greeted with “welcome home” when he arrives in country. His mission is to “put the fear of God into those savages.” There’s “evil in [Iraq],” and our hero can’t let it spread “to San Diego, Oregon, or New York.” He’s a surgeon. His scalpel is his rifle. Every kill is a cut against cruelty’s cancerous tumors.

While celebrating Eid with a local Iraqi, he notices his host’s elbows show signs of abrasion. Is this Iraqi Mustafa, lying prone on rooftops, killing American heroes?

He excuses himself from the dinner table and snoops around his host’s bedroom, finding a large cache of weapons and explosives under the floorboards. He rushes back into the dining room and places his host in a chokehold. Him and the translator interrogate the host. It’s time for a midnight raid.

They go in guns blazing, tossing a grenade through the door first. All “military-aged males” are down. But what were they doing here? There are body parts strewn about on shelves, and a dead Iraqi strung up to the ceiling by chains. Were they torturing people here?

A counter-attack occurs. The Seals need to get out of there. A woman in the shadows calls Mustafa, who grabs his rifle and gears up under an anti-American poster he keeps in his bedroom.

It’s difficult for Mustafa to get a shot on the convoy as they disengage from the firefight. The roadblock of Iraqi civilians weren’t able to block the convoy well enough for Mustafa. One of the Humvee turrets has the logo of comic book war-veteran-turned-vigilante-murderer the Punisher.

Our hero’s home again, and every noise reminds him of war. A Marine he doesn’t remember saving embarrasses him in front of his child. They have a newborn daughter now, too. He sees his newborn daughter crying in a hospital room filled with other crying newborns. Through the shatter-proof glass and cacophony of crying newborns, the midwife nurses can’t hear our hero shouting that he wants them to see to his daughter. He’s angry. He’s sad. He’s powerless again.

He goes back to Iraq for a third tour. He’s only comfortable around his savages now. He’s happy, and his entire platoon’s painted their body armor, ammunition, and vehicles with Punisher logos.

Mustafa has a child too now, but like our hero, he picks up his weapon. Mustafa and our hero cross paths, and the Seals find themselves in an ambush. Mustafa shoots one of our hero’s platoon mates, hitting their weapon, but the round ricochets into their face. The Seals call for extract. Their platoon mate was the first Seal injured in Iraq.

Realizing that the shot was fired from a thousand yards, the Seals head back out alone to hunt for Mustafa. They’re driving through ambushes and ramming cars to get back to where their platoon member and friend was shot. They hop out of their Humvees on location and start clearing buildings. More Seals are injured and killed in the process. The Seals retreat back to base and fly home to America to bury their dead.

Our hero’s wife asks him if he wants to die. He says no, that he wants to protect her, his family, and his country from all nebulous existential threats, foreign and domestic. He heads back to Iraq for a forth tour. His work is never done. God’s work is never done. Once he arrives in Iraq, he finds out that a Seal injured in the search for Mustafa died after surgery. He goes to the rooftops.

Man with a rocket launcher. One shot, one kill.

A child moves towards the rocket launcher. Our hero’s whispering and whimpering at the kid to not pick it up, but the kid can’t hear him. Our hero’s conflicted. He knows what he must do, but he can’t.

The child aims the rocket launcher at American troops. Our hero sweats profusely, slowly pulling his trigger back. God intervenes — the child drops the rocket launcher, running away to play with something else. Our hero sighs in relief so hard that he orgasms, realizing that God tested him as He tested Abraham.

But God’s work is never done. Mustafa’s still out there. American soldiers are setting up barricades around town. The camera reveals Mustafa, taking aim with his rifle. A soldier falls.

“The shot came from the East!” Within seconds, our hero spots Mustafa “more than a mile out” in the distance. He takes aim. His spotter’s telling him to stand down. Our hero prays before firing a single round.

The bullet travels in slow motion. Mustafa’s brains splatter across the rooftop. “Tango down.”

But the shot that killed Mustafa betrayed the sniper team’s location, and the team needs immediate extract from the area, when moments later, a firefight erupts. There is no celebration, and no rest, only more death, set to a soundtrack of gunfire and shouts of “get some, motherfucker.”

Our hero is injured in the gun battle — gut shot, a slow, painful death if left untreated. He calls his wife in the middle of the firefight to tell her he’s ready to come home as a sandstorm sent by God consumes their position, obscuring the enemy’s line of sight, allowing the Seals to retreat.

A lack of visibility means indiscriminate fire, and by chance, our hero gets shot in the knee while running towards his extract. His friends only realize he’s missing when doing an accountability check. Despite the injury and the inability to see his own hands in the sandstorm, our hero finds his way through the valley of the shadow of death, regrouping with his extract.

Back in America, he spends his time at the bar. His wife doesn’t even know he’s home. He needs some alone time. He can’t face his wife or children. He’s ashamed of himself. His wife calls for him to come home. He spends days staring at a powered-off TV grimacing, hearing screams and gunfire. At a family gathering, our hero almost kills the family dog for showing too much verve while playing with our hero’s son.

He goes to a psychiatrist at the military hospital. He’s told he’s credited for over a hundred and sixty kills, and is asked if he regrets anything he’s done, or anything he’s seen. He tells his psychiatrist no, only that he wished he could only save more people. The psychiatrist tells him there’s plenty of injured soldiers in the hospital to be saved. In the hospital, our hero befriends those soldiers and takes them shooting. His home life improves.

He tells his son “it’s a heck of a thing to take a beating heart.” He wants to take him hunting, though his son doesn’t sound too enthused. Our hero wants his son to follow in his footsteps.

He heads out to shoot guns with another veteran, to connect with and soothe their soul. They’ve never met before. It’s their first time going out. As they load into the truck to go shooting, the film fades to black. “[Our hero] was killed that day by a veteran he was trying to help,” and the credits roll to footage from his funeral procession as a soundtrack of Taps plays.

“Directed and Produced by Clint Eastwood,” that guy who yelled at an empty chair for ten minutes on stage at the Republican National Convention in 2012.

There are people out there who will watch this movie and join the military.