An autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the

An
American Hero – Film Adaptation of American
Sniper

Chris
Kyle was a Navy SEAL and is the deadliest sniper in United States Military
history. He had at least 160 confirmed
kills over four tours in Iraq, according to the Pentagon’s count, but according
to his own count and his fellow Navy SEALs, the number of kills was closer to two times as many. Over the
span of his four tours of duty in Iraq, Kyle earned
two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with Valor. He survived six separate
IED, or improvised explosive device, attacks, two helicopter crashes, was
wounded three times, and underwent multiple surgeries. The honors he received
and the injuries he lived through, earned him the the title of “The Legend” among
his Navy SEAL teammates, and from his enemies, he was given the title of al-shaitan,
“the devil” (Mooney 3). Kyle was honorably discharged from the United States
Navy in 2009 and years later, with the help of Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice, he wrote and
published an autobiography. In his autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the
Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, he writes about his experiences overseas and
the struggles he faced when he came home. The book’s film adaptation, American
Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, is based loosely off of Kyle’s book and
also tells about the experiences of Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, but
with some changes. The film adaptation of American Sniper exaggerates
the role of a character, Mustafa, in order to emphasize Chris Kyle’s image as
an American hero.

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Many films exaggerate
certain aspects of the literature they were adapted from in order to better
portray a specific aspect of a character or idea. In some cases, it is
necessary to exaggerate in order to adapt appropriately. According to Rodney
Welch, a freelance journalist and book reviewer, the drama in a novel may only
take place inside a character’s head, or is described by an all-knowing
narrator. The screenwriter, therefore, may have to adjust certain scenes and form
a dialogue with other characters. Also, turning literature into film may create
other demands, such as if a book is long and includes a large amount of
characters. In this case, certain scenes will need to be condensed, or cut out
completely, and some characters may have to be removed to shorten a story into
a manageable film length. Additionally, many filmmakers may be focused on using
the book for profit, such as selling it to a larger audience, rather than to providing
a film adaptation that will satisfy readers of the book (Welch). In the case of
American Sniper, Clint Eastwood exaggerates the role of Mustafa to
portray to a large audience of Americans, the image of Navy SEAL sniper Chris
Kyle as an American hero and to emphasize his heroic qualities.

There are many qualities
that heroes possess, among the most important qualities are courage, bravery,
loyalty, selflessness, dedication, determination, perseverance, humility, sacrifice,
and most of all, a purpose. In the case of Chris Kyle, his sole purpose is to
protect his family, his men, and his country. Along with certain heroic
qualities, heroes, or protagonists, also need a nemesis, or an antagonist.
According to J. Gideon Sarantinos, this idea can be traced back to classical
storytelling where protagonists are the first to enter the stage, or in the
case of American Sniper, the scene, and represent the point of view the
audience should follow throughout the film. On the other hand, antagonists are
portrayed as negative, bad, or evil. Even though antagonists have a negative
connotation attached to them, they do have a positive impact on every story by
giving the protagonist a “glimpse into a better world by making their current
world increasingly undesirable.” This teaches the protagonist right from wrong
and that all the struggles will pay off eventually and that obstacles will
always arise. Overcoming these obstacles allow for the protagonist to become a
better, or stronger, person. These obstacles are the innate expansion of the
antagonist’s role. Antagonists are a crucial element of motivating a protagonist
to overcome their obstacles. Along with all of this, antagonists must be an
equally skilled opponent in order to push the protagonist (Sarantinos). Throughout
the film, Chris Kyle’s character displays all of these traits but in his book,
these traits are not as clear-cut as they are in the film. By exaggerating the
role of Mustafa in the film, Clint Eastwood not only highlights Chris Kyle’s
heroic traits but also provides Kyle with a nemesis.

Mustafa, played by Sammy
Sheik, is a skilled Iraqi sniper, who may or may not exist in the real world.
According to Adam Taylor, it is not clear whether Mustafa exists or not, but
there are similar legends of skilled Iraqi snipers, such as that of “Juba,” a
sniper with the Islamic Army in Iraq. Some legends accredit this Iraqi sniper
with hundreds of kills and accounts from American soldiers indicate that he was
a nuisance to many of the U.S. troops. “Juba” also sent a video message to then
U.S. president, George Bush, that contains him saying, “I have nine bullets in
this gun and I have a present for George Bush. I am going to kill nine
people.” Snipers like “Juba” have been a terrifying aspect of warfare for
many years (Taylor). Even though legends exist of snipers like Juba and
Mustafa, in his autobiography, Chris Kyle only mentions Mustafa in one
paragraph where he writes about his connection with the near-mythical sniper:

While we were on the berm
watching the city, we were also watching warily for an Iraqi sniper known as
Mustafa. From the reports we heard, Mustafa was an Olympics marksman who was
using his skills against Americans and Iraqi police and soldiers. Several
videos had been made and posted, boasting of his ability. I never saw him, but
other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we think was him. (Kyle 168-169)

This quote reinforces the fact that Kyle has heard
of Mustafa, but has never actually seen him. On the contrary, in the film,
Clint Eastwood uses Mustafa as a villain and Chris Kyle’s nemesis throughout
the film. Mustafa, is portrayed as a sniper with skills almost as good as Chris
Kyle’s and, similar to Kyle’s statement in his book, competed as a marksman in
the Olympics. Throughout the film, Mustafa is shown continually stalking Kyle
and the other Navy SEALs through various cities and deployments in Iraq over
many years. He systematically picks off the members of Kyle’s squad and other
troops and, in one scene, targets Kyle and his good friend, Ryan “Biggles” Job,
played by Jake McDorman, on an Iraqi rooftop. Mustafa shoots, his bullet then
hitting Biggles’ rifle, causing it to shatter into multiple fragments. The
fragments of Biggles’ rifle explode into his face, disfigure it, and blind him,
but he survives.

            In
a later scene, shortly after the run in with Mustafa, Kyle visits Biggles in
the hospital just before leaving for his fourth tour to Iraq. During the visit,
Biggles tells Kyle that he proposed to his fiancé, they joke with each other,
and before Kyle leaves, the two exchange words and in the following dialogue
from American Sniper, Kyle’s heroic nature can be seen:

Biggles. You’re not going
back.

Kyle. We are. We’ll wall
them in and hunt them down.

Biggles. Come on. You
don’t have to do that.

Kyle. You’re my brother…
And they’re gonna fucking pay for what they did to you.

Biggles. Hooyah, Legend.

Kyle. Fucking hooyah. (3.117.17-22)

These quotes from Ryan “Biggles” Job and Chris Kyle
reinforce the idea of Kyle being a hero. They show Kyle’s sacrifice and
dedication to his cause and his Navy SEAL brethren because, even though Biggles
insists he stays, he courageously is risking his life along with leaving his
wife and child behind to avenge his injured comrade. Soon after Kyle returns to
Iraq, he learns that Biggles has passed away during surgery.

            In
his autobiography, Kyle does write in depth about the day Biggles was shot, but
in contrast to the film, Biggles was not shot by Mustafa but, rather, by an
unknown enemy insurgent. Also, Biggles did not die soon after he was shot, as
witnessed in the film, rather, he died three years later, in 2009, due to
complications for facial reconstructive surgery. Before his death, he got
married, attended college, got a job, and also climbed Mount Rainer. Similar to
the film, Kyle did want to go back to avenge Biggles’ death and writes,  “A few guys weren’t sure whether we should go
or not. We talked about it, and planned out the mission. I didn’t hardly have
time for it, though. I just wanted blood for my guy (368).” Though Kyle writes
about wanting revenge for Biggles, there is never mention of him fulfilling
this in his book. In the film, however, Kyle does get revenge, with a skillful
kill shot.

Both the film and Kyle’s
book include one of the longest shots in United States military history, 2,100
yards. In his autobiography, Kyle writes about this 2,100-yard shot he made on
an enemy insurgent who was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or
RPG. He admits in his book that it was an exceptional, yet lucky, shot where he
writes, “Twenty-one hundred yards. The shot amazes me even now. It was a
straight-up luck shot; no way one shot should have gotten him (Kyle 447).” This
shot being exceptional, along with being particularly lucky, however, was not
taken to kill “Mustafa” but rather to protect American troops from an RPG-wielding
enemy insurgent. On the other hand, the film exaggerates this tremendous shot
to use as a major moment in the film where Chris Kyle takes down the notorious
enemy sniper and nemesis, Mustafa. This exaggeration of Mustafa and Kyle’s
2,100-yard shot, according to Jason Hall, the screenwriter for American
Sniper, was used to tie everything together into a major climatic moment in
the film (Lamothe).

The role exaggeration of
Mustafa is used to increase Chris Kyle’s image as a hero and his purpose in
combat and highlighting the heroic qualities of courage, bravery, loyalty,
selflessness, dedication, determination, perseverance, humility, and sacrifice
which he uses toward his purpose, protecting his country. Additionally, by
exaggerating Mustafa’s role, the film can focus the constant fight between him
and Kyle, and focus less harsh language used Kyle’s autobiography. In his book,
Kyle talks about “slaughtering the enemy” and refers to them as
“savages” on more than one occasion. Phil Zabriskie, who covered the
Iraq and Afghanistan Wars for Time and other magazines, stated in an
interview with GQ on the language used in Kyle’s book:

The language used by
soldiers in war zones is rarely pretty; usually it’s quite the opposite, things
you just wouldn’t say at home. It’s bloodthirsty. So the argument that he was
bloodthirsty is spot on. He was bloodthirsty. But when you’re talking about
someone whose job is killing, being bloodthirsty was a way to help him carry
out the job he was sent to do. (Editors of GQ)

By using this language his seems less humility and
selfless.

In the film, however, there is never any instance
where Kyle refers to his enemies as “savages” or talks about “slaughtering the
enemy.” Rather, there are only instances where Kyle talks about protecting his
men, family, and country such as when he says, “Cause it’s the greatest country
on earth and I believe it’s worth protecting,” “You want to invite these
motherfuckers to come fight in San Diego? Or New York? We’re protecting more
than just this dirt,” or when he is talking to the doctor about his
psychological issues and says, “I was just protecting my guys. They were trying
to kill our soldiers and I’m willing to stand before my creator and answer for
every shot I took. The thing that haunts me are all the guys I couldn’t save.”
These quotes show how the film portrayed his motivation as being solely to
protect others. By exaggerating the roles of Mustafa, American Sniper focuses
the audience’s attention on his heroic behavior rather than the brutality that
goes along with war. With the movie being directed towards Americans, an important
reason for the film focusing more on Mustafa and less on the harsh language, according
to Antoinette Weil, a marketer and writer for Literary Traveler, is that
Americans are sheltered from the brutality of wars because they take place far away
from the United States. The only exposure most Americans get is from the rare news
footage that only occurs when the U.S. is taking troops out or sending more troops
in (Weil).

 

 

            In
conclusion, by exaggerating the role of the character, Mustafa, the film
adaptation, American Sniper, allows the film to focus on Chris Kyle’s
heroic qualities as well as giving him a nemesis, the main antagonist, Mustafa.
Most importantly, the exaggeration of Mustafa’s role 

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