Navy SEAL Chris Kyle earned the nickname "The Legend" for his service in Iraq. With 160 confirmed hits during the conflict, Kyle became the most dangerous American sniper in history. In 2012, he turned his story into a memoir, titled American Sniper. Two years later, director Clint Eastwood transformed it into a blockbuster film starring Bradley Cooper. Tragically, Kyle was slain in 2013 at a shooting range while trying to help a Marine suffering from PTSD. The film memorialized Kyle, portraying him as a hero the year following his demise.
But how accurate is American Sniper? The film made several significant changes, such as exaggerating some of Kyle's opponents and completely fabricating others. In reality, Kyle did make a stunning 2,100-yard shot, but it wasn't to end his rival sniper, Mustafa. And, despite the drama of the infamous opening scene, Kyle never shot a child.
Even more significantly, controversies surrounding Kyle's veracity extend to his memoir, in which he exaggerated his medal count. A jury also found Kyle guilty of defamation for fabricating a story in which he punched Jesse Ventura. American Sniper has earned a spot on some lists of the worst movies of all time for its harsh depiction of all Iraqis. Fans, however, praise the film for its nuanced depiction of Kyle's struggle as a sniper, claiming it ranks as one of the best movies ever made. Kyle himself claimed he never felt any regret over pulling the trigger.
In American Sniper's tense opening scene, Chris Kyle watches a mother and her son - who is carrying a grenade toward a US Marine convoy - through his scope. Kyle ultimately pulls the trigger on both targets, illustrating the difficult choice snipers must make in conflict.
In reality, however, Kyle never shot a child, and he only fired at a woman once. Kyle did point his scope at a child on one occasion but refused to fire. Kyle explained, "I wasn't going to [end] a kid, innocent or not. I'd have to wait until the savage who put him up to it showed himself on the street."
While the American Sniper film altered Kyle's memoir, one of Kyle's sniper trainers, Brandon Webb, still praised the movie's depiction of the dramatic moment. According to Webb, snipers have to make comparably distressing decisions quite frequently.
American Sniper presents two main villains whom Kyle must fight in Iraq: Mustafa, a Syrian sniper working for the insurgency, and the Butcher, who brutally slays children and families. Kyle spends the film tracking down Mustafa, his evil alter-ego, until the two engage in a dramatic showdown.
In reality, however, both villains were largely created for the movie. Mustafa was a real sniper, but he is barely mentioned in Kyle's book, and the two never really took part in a showdown. Kyle's memoir describes Mustafa as "an Olympics marksman who was using his skills against Americans and Iraqi police and soldiers."
Jason Hall, the film's screenwriter, told Time Mustafa's role was exaggerated for dramatic effect.
American Sniper is based on Kyle's memoir of the same name; however, the book is not always transparent. In it, Kyle claims that as a SEAL, he earned "two Silver Stars and five Bronze [Stars], all for valor."
In fact, internal Navy documents show that Kyle actually earned one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. One of Kyle's former commanders noticed the discrepancy before the book was published, recommending Kyle correct the inflated medal count. A retired SEAL who served in Iraq said Kyle's misrepresentation “takes away from the legitimate heroism he showed."
In the American Sniper film, Kyle grapples with the number of lives he's claimed. While he holds the record for the most sniper hits by an American, his choices haunt him. In the opening scene, for example, Kyle holds back tears after pulling the trigger on a child and his mother.
In his memoir, however, Kyle showed no signs of remorse, writing, "I only wish I had [slain] more ... It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it.”
Kyle's attitude as expressed in his book was the exact opposite of his emotional torment in the film. He wrote, "I loved what I did. I still do ... I'm not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.”