Monday, February 23, 2015

'American Sniper' Snubbed

Chris Kyle

As most moviegoers have done in the last month, I went to see 'American Sniper' in theaters. I knew a little bit about Chris Kyle, but not a lot. I had heard he survived four tours of duty in Iraq only to be gunned down by a fellow veteran here at home. The tragedy of the situation stuck with me, but I had largely forgotten the story.

I am now covering the trial of Eddie Ray Routh for and am well informed now about the horrific details of Chris Kyle's death. This blog is not ALL about the trial, but also about the movie, how it was received, and the outcome of the Oscars. It's a long one, so hang in there!

The movie itself was an emotional roller coaster for me. I felt the suspense of every shot taken by Kyle. I felt Taya's feeling of being a single parent while married, as I too have raised children with a husband who was away (not in war), but being Mom and Dad both is a hard job. I can't imagine her feeling of knowing her husband was in a war zone and every day could be the day she learned something tragic had happened to him.

As with every war movie, you feel the brotherhood that is so strong among those who serve in a war zone. You understand how Chris, in knowing he was good at what he did, felt his place was in Iraq, on a rooftop, guarding those on the ground as they carried out their missions. While home, he failed to "be home". His heart was in Iraq. I suppose it's something those of us who never served will understand.

Bradley Cooper was nothing short of amazing in portraying Chris Kyle. He underwent a physical transformation that included taking in 6000 calories a day, packing on 39 lbs of muscle, working out for five hours a day, and all within three months. Aside from the physical challenges to transform into Chris Kyle, Cooper had to work weekends on the shooting range, perfecting all the technical aspects of being a sniper to make the movie even halfway believable. Cooper was a natural and was quickly knocking out targets from as far as 800 yards away. Cooper immersed himself in the role and didn't leave a stone unturned when it came to perfecting Chris. Chris's wife, Taya, was blown away by Coopers performance, even saying she forgot she was watching an actor play her husband at times.
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle

While we know a few things were added in for drama; Kyle never shot a child, the 'Butcher of Baghdad' was never a top priority for his unit, nor was the sniper depicted in the movie. The sniper did exist, but again, was loosely mentioned in Chris' autobiography, 'American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, which he wrote shortly before his death.

And, don't get me started on the mechanical baby. That baby was the worst fake baby in all of movie history. The day of filming, one baby had a fever and the backup didn't show. They were forced to improvise with this robot baby. But still, I had a good laugh about it during the film.

What really made me sick was the reaction from certain Hollywood personalities who made smart ass comments about snipers in general and quickly backtracked with a, "You misunderstood me" apology the day after the internet backlash flooded their Twitters. I knew very quickly this movie wouldn't be an Oscar hopeful. Don't misunderstand me. I have friends who are celebrities and I don't categorize actors or actresses in general as jerks who love to protest a war. Even I never agreed with the war in Iraq. Ever. But, I fully respected and admired the brave men and women who answered the call to go there on behalf of our awesome country. I grieved for two friends who were killed there and one friend who was injured.

It seems that because Chris Kyle was a sniper, and a damn good one, some saw him as a bad man. A man who loved to kill. A man who chose to keep going back for more. The man with the most confirmed kills in US history was evil to some people who sit behind a computer and write opinions, (hey, just like me), about a man who served our country overseas and here at home. Except, their comments portray him as a "coward", as Michael Moore indicated. That was the first time it occurred to me that this movie likely didn't stand a change during award season. And, it occurred to me that some people have no clue what it must be like to be in a war. They sit in their mansions and live far away from the rooftops and foxholes of Iraq.

Just as a tweeter last night said, one notable actor didn't clap at all when 'American Sniper' was introduced as a Best Picture nominee and many looked at their agents to see if it was okay to clap. The irony of it all is several years ago, in the thick of the fight, a lot of Oscar winners thanked the men and women serving. Now, they're hesitant to clap for a movie about a man who killed in a war where it was kill or be killed. Alas, it won an Oscar for sound. If there was an Oscar for being classy, we all know who wouldn't get it.

Who's not clapping?

After getting out of the service, Kyle found comfort in assisting wounded veterans by taking them out, talking to them, and occasionally taking them to a shooting range. Some would say this is a bad idea. Maybe they're right. We all see how it ended. But to categorize every man or woman with PTSD as a possible murderer is beyond insulting. Those who were helped by Chris say that doing those things made them feel good again. It may have been the one thing they were good at and never thought they'd be able to do again. He touched lives. He found his purpose after the war and beyond his family.

It just so happened that Chris was approached by Eddie Ray Routh's mother in the parking lot of Chris' children's school, where she was an employee. She told of her son, an ex-Marine, and how he had PTSD. She had heard so many good things about Chris helping men like her son. He said, "I will do anything in my power to help your son", and instructed her to leave Eddie's phone number in his kid's backpack. She did. But that day, she left out some VERY important details that proved to be fatal to Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. The fact that her son had been hospitalized multiple times for psychotic episodes and that she was so scared of him that she had all of the guns removed from her home after he threatened to kill the entire family and himself. She left out that he was a habitual drug user, often smoking "wet" marijuana (dipped in formaldehyde). These are all red flags that were never shared with Chris or Chad, making them sitting ducks that day.

Eddie Ray Routh: Then and Now

On that fateful day, Eddie Routh and his uncle smoked what is believed to be "wet" marijuana and drank whiskey. Routh's uncle testified that he heard a loud truck roll up and Eddie went to see who was there. The uncle heard, "Hi, I'm Chris". And they were gone. Testimony has answered a lot of questions for those following the case since the beginning.

Routh says that he was irritated because Kyle and Littlefield didn't talk to him on the long ride to the shooting range. It irritated him they they stopped and got food since Routh told him he wasn't hungry. It made him mad that they bought him a meal anyway. Chris knew something was off. In the truck on the way to the range, Chris texted Chad, "This dude is straight up nuts". Chad responded, "He's behind me. Watch my six". (Watch my six is military talk for "Watch my back"). 

Routh told a psychiatrist that Chris and Chad were assassins and would kill him first so he had to take them out. Routh said he shot Chad Littlefield first, and as Chris went to turn, he shot Chris. Both men had guns on their waist fully loaded. Chris had a revolver that had been emptied just prior to the murders. With backs turned, he shot them both. My theory is one gun in each hand and shooting simultaneously. Chris was shot several times: once in the side of the head (jaw area) which damaged his spinal cord, and several more in the back. Those bullets in the back were fatal. The "instantly" fatal wound was through the shoulder and into the heart, severing the aorta. Chad was not dead after Routh shot Chris, and was "twitching" according to Routh, so he "finished him off" with a shot to the head.

Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield

The state's psychologists accuse Routh of faking schizophrenia and psychosis as a defense. We do know that "wet" marijuana can cause a drug induced psychosis that can last for a long time. And, we do know that doctors doubt that Routh ever suffered from PTSD. His duties in Iraq never took him off of the base. And, when he said he helped scoop rotting bodies into mass graves in Haiti, he was lying. He went off the ship twice... to get his paycheck. He was never in a situation that would produce PTSD, according to multiple doctors, and, from his service records as well.

Jealousy. That's what it could boil down to. Routh felt he didn't get the respect he deserved after his service was over. He never got to do the jobs he wanted to do in the military. He was an armorer. He fixed guns and guarded prisoners. Could it be that the decorated war hero, Chris Kyle, who lived nearby was seen as something he wanted to be? Routh is charged with the two murders. No death penalty is sought. If convicted, it's either due to insanity or just guilty. Insanity means you know what you are doing at the time of the murders. Such as when Routh went to his uncle's and sister's house to show off his new truck (Chris' truck), and telling his sister, "I traded my soul for a truck". Knowing is locking yourself in that truck and not surrendering to police, only to give chase. Knowing is what Routh said to several Texas Rangers that night, "I know what I did was wrong". 

In the end, Routh will never be a free man. Nor should he. In the end, two men were taken from their wives and kids. Two men who just wanted to help. The verdict is near. The pain will never end for the Littlefield's and for those who knew, loved, served with, and were changed by Chris Kyle.