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‘American Sniper’ — What’s Fact and What’s Fiction?

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I doubt there are many people who have seen “American Sniper” and believe every detail is 100 percent accurate. After all, this is a movie trying to condense many years into two hours.

But how much of Chris Kyle’s story presented on the big screen is true, and how much was created for dramatic effect?

When you read about the detractors from “American Sniper,” they all seem to get caught up in the inaccuracies of the film. If you can find me a film that is completely accurate (even ones based on true events), please let me know.

Film-making is an art form, and like it or not some liberties are taken to enhance the story and make it work in the time frame.

Having said that, director Clint Eastwood’s film about Chris Kyle, an Odessa, Texas native and the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, is mostly built from facts, with some alterations to give the movie a better flow.

Personally, I’m not offended because I know there’s a huge difference between a movie and real life. ‘It’s just a movie’ is a common term thrown around, and that is equally true here: “American Sniper” is a movie that celebrates Kyle’s life. It’s up to us to look into and do the research to find out more about the man himself. So that’s what I did.

American Sniper cooper
Warner Bros.

Fortunately for me, there have been people all over the Internet doing the same thing. The problem with finding out the truth about Chris Kyle is that despite the fact he is widely regarded as an American hero, you do have many on the left that are just as fast to discount everything he accomplished. So I take everything I read with a grain of salt.

I found an article written by Courtney Duckworth at Slate to be well-written and more focused on facts rather than opinions. From her article, we learn some details in the film were changed.

Here are a few things that happened in real life to Chris Kyle that were changed in the movie to make the story a little more compelling for moviegoers or create a more dramatic narrative for the story:

  • Chris Kyle quit the rodeo due to an injury and not to join the military, though he had apparently planned on joining after he finished school.
  • Kyle also didn’t join the SEALs on his first visit as the movie suggests, but rather later on after a call from a recruiter.
  • According to Kyle’s own memoirs, he did not kill a child his first time out. However, he did shoot and kill a woman wielding a grenade and said he had no regrets.
  • The entire storyline regarding the rival insurgent sniper called Mustafa was altered or given a Hollywood shine. Kyle mentions him as a real person, but he was apparently killed by a different sniper. But details are overall sketchy on this.
  • “The Butcher” was a fictional character, but perhaps based on the real-life Shia warlord Abu Deraa.
  • Kyle’s friend and fellow Navy SEAL in the movie did not die during surgery, but rather two days afterward in what appeared to be a mistake made by the hospital and his pain killing medications.

There are other minor details that were changed in the film as well that were really not significant to the story. And let’s face it, Kyle became such a larger than life figure that there are so many stories floating around it’s nearly impossible to know what is real and what isn’t.

This is hardly anything new. Oliver Stone’s “JFK” from 1991 was apparently full of inaccuracies. Another film that has had Oscars tied to it that ironically is out now as well, “Foxcatcher,” has also been criticized for taking liberties with the real story.

You could go on and on with movies that are based on books, and part of the enjoyment is comparing the book or reality to what made it into the movie.

american sniper trailer
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures via YouTube

I think the real debate about Chris Kyle’s legacy is whether he was a hero or not. For me, it’s not even a question. But rather than just discount the other side, I will add this to the argument. Men like Chris Kyle, even though they are far from perfect, have always fought and died to defend the rights of their own critics.

Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Howard Dean and Seth Rogen completely have the right to their own opinion AND to make a movie that depicts Chris Kyle as the “patriotic psychopath” that Maher has claimed he is.

I have no doubt that Kyle would have sacrificed everything to give them the freedom to do so.

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