“I’m proud of my service, but I sure as hell didn’t do it for any medal. They don’t make me any better or less than any other guy who served. Medals never tell the whole story,” Kyle said in his memoir. That proved to be very true. The medals were just part of his story, with an emphasis on “story.”
Kyle has been accused of telling half-truths and lies after his death. He reportedly embellished his military record, claiming he had earned more stars of valor than he in truth did. Kyle also reportedly lied about killing looters during Hurricane Katrina and finding chemical weapons in Iraq, among other things. The myth that Kyle built up for himself was not built on hard, unimpeachable facts. Despite that, Eastwood, Hall, and Cooper decided to lean on an uncritical hero narrative.
“American Sniper,” as a film, is also very uninterested in the “why” of the war in Iraq. That could be written off as a filmmaking choice by Eastwood. But there was a sense from many observers that the sheer unwillingness to address the politics around the war and make it a pure hero story was problematic. “It’s a movie that’s going to leave viewers with a false perception of what happened,” Vox mused in January 2015.
Problematic elements aside, “American Sniper” arrived at the precise right time. Even though the war in Iraq was a questionable one in the eyes of many Americans (and those around the world), audiences were very much ready to embrace this hero tale. In part because it offered blockbuster entertainment with zero competition to challenge it in the space. The barren wasteland that is January provided a clear path for this film to shatter box office records.