This article contains discussions/references to terrorism, death, and trauma.
Although American Sniper claims to tell the true story of Chris Kyle, the movie adaptation took plenty of artistic liberties with Kyle’s life and made a few changes to the book’s narrative. Released in 2014, American Sniper charts Kyle’s childhood, his early adulthood, his military career, his retirement, and ultimately his untimely passing. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle in director Clint Eastwood’s loose film adaptation of American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. The movie earned six nominations at the 87th Academy Awards, including a Best Picture nomination for Eastwood and a Best Actor nomination for Cooper.
While Kyle was celebrated for his success as the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history, his tours of duty during the War in Iraq took a huge toll on his marriage, which becomes the main conflict of the film. Critics praised Cooper’s committed performance and Eastwood’s engaging direction, but American Sniper was controversial for its historical inaccuracies. According to the data site Information is Beautiful, just 56.9% of American Sniper is faithful to historical fact, meaning that it isn’t as “true” as some may have thought.
1 Chris Kyle Never Had To Shoot A Child
In the opening scene of American Sniper – and the opening of Kyle’s memoir – the pressures of Kyle’s sniping career are demonstrated when he sees a woman hand an anti-tank grenade to a child, who then approaches a U.S. military convoy, and Kyle has to decide whether to pull the trigger. In real life, there was no child (via The Guardian); the woman herself carried the grenade to the convoy. Kyle described this incident as “the only time I killed anyone other than a male combatant.”
2 The 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings Didn’t Influence Kyle’s Decision To Enlist
In the movie, Kyle is motivated to enlist in the U.S. military when he watches the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings on television. However, this didn’t influence Kyle’s real-life decision to enlist (via Slate). Kyle had intended to join the military after he graduated from high school. The filmmakers simply used it as a visual shorthand to demonstrate Kyle’s need to defend his country. It also had nothing to do with a cheating girlfriend, as the film suggests.
3 Rodeo Injuries Almost Prohibited Kyle From Joining The Military
When Kyle first enlisted to join the military, he was turned down due to injuries he had sustained from bronco-busting rodeos (via Slate). While he did get a full-time job ranch job after he left Tarleton State University after attending for two years (before dropping out), Kyle got a call from Navy recruiters who had changed their minds and decided to accept him into the Marines. The movie streamlines this part of the story to save time, so Kyle goes straight from the rodeo circuit to Marine weapons training.
4 Kyle’s Wedding Wasn’t Interrupted By The Outbreak Of War
In the movie adaptation of American Sniper, Kyle’s wedding to his wife, Taya (played by Sienna Miller), is interrupted by the news that America is going to war following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In real life (via Slate), Kyle had already learned that he was going to be deployed, so he and Taya decided to get married during a brief period of leave from military training before he was shipped off to war.
5 Mustafa Is Partly Fictional
The American Sniper movie introduces a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, an ex-Olympic sharpshooter (played by Sammy Sheik), who is Kyle’s main “opponent”. This is a partially fictional character (via The Guardian). A notorious sniper is briefly mentioned in one paragraph of Kyle’s memoir, but he’s not the main villain of the story like he is in the movie. In his book, Kyle wrote, “I never saw him, but other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we think was him.” This is one of the most Hollywood-ized elements of the film adaptation. The movie dedicates its climactic sequence to Kyle and Mustafa’s dramatic fight to the death.
6 The Butcher Is Fictional
Mido Hamada plays “The Butcher,” an infamous terrorist who attacks small children, in the movie adaptation of American Sniper. The Butcher is depicted as al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s second-in-command. Although he’s thought to be inspired by Ismail Hafidh al-Lami, also known as Abu Deraa (via The Guardian), who was blamed for thousands of deaths in the mid-2000s, the Butcher is a fictional character.
7 The Scene In The Civilian House Was Invented For The Movie
In one scene in the American Sniper movie, Kyle and his fellow SEALs take shelter in a civilian house, where they are welcomed with a meal. However, when they find weapons hidden under the floorboards, they realize the family is pro-insurgency and enter an intense shootout with them. This scene doesn’t appear in Kyle’s memoir and was invented just for the film (via Slate).
8 Kyle And Taya Mostly Communicated Via Email
In the American Sniper movie, Kyle frequently speaks to his wife Taya on the satellite phone and she’s horrified to hear the sounds of battle in the background. In reality (via The Washington Post), this only happened once. Kyle and Taya mostly communicated via email, but that’s nowhere near as cinematic as a phone call where the actors can express all their emotions through dialogue, so the filmmakers changed the emails to phone calls.
9 Kyle’s Friends’ Stories Are Fictionalized
Both the memoir and its film adaptation feature many of Kyle’s friendships on the battlefield, but the two friends who recur the most – in both the book and the movie – are Ryan “Biggles” Job (played by Jake McDorman), and Marc Lee (played by Luke Grimes). In the film, Biggles is blinded by Mustafa, bolstering Kyle’s quest for vengeance against the fictional Syrian sniper, and dies shortly after proposing to his girlfriend. In real life (via Slate), Biggles was discharged after his injury and attended college, started a career, and got married before he passed away during his wife’s pregnancy with their first child.
In the film, Lee’s death in the heat of battle is used to further the film’s pro-war message as Kyle argues his friend died because he lost faith in the war. But, in reality, Kyle was much more sympathetic to the loss of his friend and paid graveside respects. In the film, Kyle scorns an anti-war letter that Lee wrote to his mother, but in the memoir, he praises the letter and supports his fallen friend.
10 The Bounty On Kyle’s Head Was Smaller And Applied To Any American Sniper
The American Sniper movie illustrates Kyle’s notoriety with posters bearing his tattoos, which promised a $180,000 bounty to anyone who killed him. However, the reward was actually in the $20,000 to $80,000 range (via Slate) and it applied to any American sniper, not just Kyle.
11 Kyle Came Home From War To Avoid Divorce
In the movie, Kyle decides to come home from war after killing Mustafa and determining that he feels too dejected to keep fighting. However, in real life, he made the decision to come home to avoid a divorce. His military service was putting a strain on his marriage and Taya had threatened to leave him if he didn’t come home (via Slate).
12 Kyle’s Final Conversation With Taya Isn’t In The Book (But Apparently Did Happen)
The film ends with Kyle’s death as he heads to a shooting range with veteran Eddie Ray Routh, who would ultimately kill him. In the movie, Kyle has a heartfelt final conversation with his wife before leaving for the shooting range. This conversation doesn’t appear in the book, but American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall wrote in an addendum to a new edition of the memoir that Taya had described the conversation to him (via Slate).
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