Peter Cavanaugh

“American Sniper”

When Howard Stern interviewed Bradley Cooper on satellite radio in early December, Howard asked how someone as old as 84-year-old Clint Eastwood could have possibly directed such a remarkable film at his advanced age. Cooper, whose portrayal of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is positively metamorphic and, hopefully, Academy Award winning, laughed aloud and passionately exclaimed, “Howard! What people need to realize is that Clint can make a film like this only because he’s 84.

From the eerie chanting of morning Islamic prayer across a barren, sadly foreboding Iraqi landscape to closing credits rolling over actual video footage of Kyle’s memorial services in Texas, “American Sniper” is a cinematic masterpiece. The fact that it has broken all-time box office records is secondary to the extraordinary quality of the remarkable work itself.

This is not a pro-war or anti-war production, although I would subjectively tend to lean toward the latter. “American Sniper” is ultimately a complex character study as to what forces bend and shape a modern day warrior and, most importantly, the price at times paid for such a triumphant, yet potentially tragic transfiguration.

Navy SEALS do not choose war. Faithfully and obediently following orders from leaders whom we, the people, select, they are war.

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, my old friend Michael Moore saw fit to tag the movie’s opening weekend with an online “Twitter”message stating that Martin Luther King, whose birthday was being simultaneously commemorated, had been killed by a sniper.

Michael wrote: “ My Dad was in the First Marine Division in the South Pacific in World War II. His brother, my uncle, Lawrence Moore, was an Army paratrooper and was killed by a Japanese sniper 70 years ago next month. My Dad always said, “Snipers are cowards. They don’t believe in a fair fight.”

The flying-monkey right quickly translated this into: “Michael Moore calls dead Navy SEAL coward!” and we were off to the races, even though Michael made no mention of Kyle or the movie in his uniquely untimely remarks.

My cousin, Rorke Denver, eloquently stated a sharply differing perspective that was published several days later in The Wall Street Journal. Denver, now a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve, appeared as “Lieutenant Rorke” in the SEAL movie, “Act of Valor” and served with Chris Kyle as a teammate on SEAL team three.

Among numerous other points, Rorke emphasized: “Snipers engage individual threats. Rarely, if ever, do their actions cause collateral damage. Snipers may be the most humane of weapons in the military arsenal. The job also takes a huge emotional toll on the man behind the scope.”

I would add that creative deception in warfare can be fancifully traced as far back as those “Dawn of Man” monkeys in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Monolith-enlightened, they surprise, ambush and defeat enemy apes with jawbone weaponry. Tools. It is striking and more than a bit ironic to observe that Sir Arthur C. Clarke saw fit to present this “military victory” as the first meaningful display of higher intelligence in human history.

But the efficacy of naked force no longer holds viable sway, alas; an epic sea change first witnessed in early August of 1945 with mushroom clouds boiling over Hiroshima and Nagasaki - introducing the atomic age. Ever since, only assured mutual destruction has kept us from a new and final World War.

How strange such reality has become so elusive in our thoughts – as renewed cries for “boots on the ground” rise again in certain quarters, ignoring the selfless sacrifices expended on our behalf by those heroes now - in the ground.

Including Chris Kyle.