I first met Chris Kyle when he was a new guy at SEAL Team 3, then later when I checked on board the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) sniper program as an instructor. My friend Eric Davis mentored him personally (we have a mentorship program at the course), and Chris finished middle of the pack as a student, but he had good instincts, and all of us instructors knew this.

Chris came down to my office after one of his tours and I remembered us having a laugh together when one of the SWCC (Special Boat Team) guys called down and asked me on speaker phone, “what are the requirements I need to complete to attend the course?”  I replied very simply, “BUD/S” (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Training), and hung up the phone.

Bottom line, Kyle was a great man and a solid SEAL. I knew him as a teammate and got to know him better outside of the Navy. I wasn’t close with his family or widow Taya Kyle but I’ve heard amazing things about both. Chris and I would talk and text back and forth about the struggle of leaving the Teams, mutual dead friends, the friends and family we cared about, and gave each other shit on a regular basis.

Photo author's collection: SEAL sniper students on the stalk field, instructor observers in the distance.
Photo author’s collection: SEAL sniper students on the stalk field, instructor observers in the distance.

As a SEAL sniper instructor who has trained over 300 students, I was really excited to see, and expecting so much more from, American Sniper.

My Review of American Sniper

Cooper delivered an amazing performance as Chris Kyle, but Eastwood’s magic was lost outside of the first and last minutes of this movie. Kevin Lacz, the SEAL actor, was surprisingly good in the movie. Good on you, man.

The story arc was extremely confusing to follow when Chris was portrayed overseas in Iraq, which is the majority of the movie. I’m not going to go into detail here because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will mention that it was hard to follow branch of service, unit, and command structure, and I know the story and have been to Iraq!

SEAL sniper properly concealed with clear bullet path. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy.
SEAL sniper properly concealed with clear bullet path. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy.

I also thought the home drama was over played. Taya Kyle is an amazing person and it’s an important topic, but it shouldn’t overshadow the entire movie. A writer friend who screened the movie said, “They turned a war movie into a coming home movie.” I have to agree with this comment. Most people going to see this movie will expect less drama and more trigger time with Chris.

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The biggest disapointment was that attention to detail was not paid to all the little things that drive military guys nuts about military movies. Patches worn improperly (Ranger tabs worn in combat?), Marine’s sweeping each other with live weapons (the USMC has some of the most disciplined riflemen I know), no glare covers in sniper scopes and unrealistic training scenarios, which I’ll get to next.

NSW snipers putting their craft to good use in Afghanistan.
NSW snipers putting their craft to good use in Afghanistan.

The SEAL sniper course training scenes were terrible to watch because they don’t come remotely close to giving the audience any idea of what SEAL sniper training is like. The course, in three months, filled with intense six-day work weeks studying ballistics in the classroom, field stalking, and shooting range training out to 1000 meters. It felt like I was watching a bunch of amateurs trying to plink Budweiser cans at 100 meters (unsuccessfully, I might add) with some asshole yelling in the background. I was embarrassed to sit through this part, and was literally crawling in my seat in GI Jane discomfort. When someone’s cell phone went off during the scene it was a welcome distraction.

I could just see Chris shaking his head in disappointment.

Brandon Webb training SEAL sniper students in the art of stealth and concealment. Courtesy author's collection.
Training SEAL sniper students in the art of stealth and concealment. Author’s private collection.

Am I being an overly critical? Maybe, but hell, I’m just trying to be honest with the SOFREP readership here, and any fans of military movies. I was just expecting so much more. Lone SurvivorSaving Private Ryan, Platoon, and Band of Brothers all got it right from an authentic military litmus test point of viewI’m a huge Eastwood fan, the movie trailer rocked in a big way, and I thought that if any production team would pay attention to detail where military matters are concerned, it would be this one. I’m not sure if the screen writer Jason Hall got hosed in the post production edit room, or if it was the other way around. Only Eastwood’s team can answer that question.

All that said, the last minutes of the movie delivered a powerful message and left the small group I was with completely stunned, like a 300 Win Mag headache. Bradley Cooper reached deep and delivered Kyle, and anyone watching will get to know Chris through Cooper’s performance, and that alone is worth watching this movie.

Go see it.