I saw American Sniper Monday afternoon. I went with a group of guys, most of them either active duty or former military. The theater was packed, and this was a Monday matinee showing.
Granted, it’s a federal holiday, and most people in Warner Robins, Georgia have government-related jobs, but not all. The Wall Street Journal duly recorded an opening weekend at $105.3 million, almost double the film’s production budget of $59 million, calling it a “surprise”:
Such a massive opening for a mid-budget drama was perhaps Hollywood’s biggest surprise since “Avengers” blew away box-office records by opening to $207 million in 2012. “Sniper,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, enjoyed the largest opening ever for a drama or R-rated film and more than doubled the prior record for Martin Luther King Day weekend.
Yes, the movie is going to be very, very profitable for Warner Brothers, Village Roadshow Pictures, and probably even Clint Eastwood, whose own legend status in Americana cannot be safer or more deeply ingrained.
Yes, the movie has all the formulaic elements of a military thriller: the stoic hero dealing with conflicting needs of his family and his combat buddies; lots of shooting, blood, and carnage; some humor; characters that resonate, and enough emotional punch to reduce men to tears. But this movie is not a formula film.
In fact, Sniper’s success is owed neither to money, nor to talent, nor to formula.
I don’t believe that Clint Eastwood made this movie for money. He made it to tell a story, and this story is more than historical. Hundreds of thousands of Iraq war combat veterans who live among us, and hundreds of thousands more who served during the war, or are still serving needed to see this story. Some of them lived part of it themselves, having seen things, done things, or suffered injuries in a country at least 6,000 miles from home, where unrestrained evil has ruled for decades.
American Sniper, and Chris Kyle’s life, is no jingoistic pro-war propaganda. Kyle witnessed evil first-hand. He wasn’t on some lone quest for vengeance like Liam Neeson’s character in Taken 3. He wasn’t Charlie Sheen’s “Navy SEALs” character, a rebel whose depth of conscience bottoms out at puddle. Chris Kyle was no caricature. He was a real person who served in Iraq, and took between 160 and 255 lives, one at a time, seeing each target in the crosshairs before pulling the trigger. If that doesn’t try a man’s soul, either he’s got no soul, or he’s seared it to the point of uselessness.
This story needed to be told because there are men and women whose souls have been tried, and they need to know that redemption is possible, that there’s a path out of the dark night of the soul into the light of the living. American Sniper presents PTSD in a real and believable way, putting us through a taste of the life of a combat soldier, a warrior whose kills are one-on-one, and whose victories are intensely personal.
Those who hate the movie reveal more about themselves than the movie. They don’t want a movie about a real soldier who dealt with his war experience unapologetically and returned to life in America, family, and purpose—to help other veterans with their own return to life. They want a movie about a caricature, or a soldier on a lone, hateful journey into vengeance, or one whose conscience takes him to a place where the war becomes the enemy. The real life soldiers they admire are [mc_name name=’Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’K000148′ ] or Bradley Manning (now Chelsea), who betrayed either their honor or their country.
Anyone whose personal creed is God, family, country is not part of the Left’s hall of fame. That’s a shame, because the very values that drove Chris Kyle are the same values that drive most of America. American Sniper has figuratively drawn a celluloid line in the sand.
Those who stand with the movie’s values and sympathize with Kyle and his fellow SEALs, Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen share an American spirit. One of the men with whom I saw the movie served on honor guard duty recently, and I know that the scenes depicting those moments honoring the fallen really hit home for him. But you don’t have to be an honor guard, or even a veteran, to understand the deep love for their country and for each other the men in Kyle’s unit shared.
Standing on the far side of the line in the sand are those whose spirits are not American. They may share our land, our nationality, by birth and lineage, but they do not share it by heritage and values. They don’t understand why Chris Kyle is a hero, because they don’t see America as worthy of heroes. They don’t see America as any better than the evil we opposed in Iraq. They are more interested in opposing the war, and the politics of the war, and the history of the war, and the president who led us during the war, than to see men like Kyle recover from it.
They don’t want Iraq war veterans to heal from their PTSD. They don’t want healing at all. They’d rather treat vets as dangerous thugs ready to explode upon society than human beings who’ve walked through unspeakable evil into the dark night of the soul. That puts these people in the same category as the enemy who tried to kill them in Iraq.
Americans of all stripes have the right to speak their minds. Moral midgets like Michael Moore, who call Chris Kyle a coward, have every right to say that. But their shrill whimpers aren’t worth hearing or wasting breath for a response. They are not American in any effectual sense, and American Sniper is an American story, about American values. Let those on Moore’s side of the line have their party, joining every other anti-American group in a chorus of venom, while we ignore them for the quislings they are.
American Sniper is intense, a thought shared even by Vice President Biden. I’m glad Clint Eastwood crafted this story into a movie, because he projected on screen what we are all thinking: exactly who is American, and wouldn’t it be nice to draw a neat line to separate those who are, from those who aren’t.
I’m sure he’s gratified, as we all are, to see a $105 million answer to that question.
(crossposted from sgberman.com)