Movie vs. Book: Part 2

I don’t normally do this, but there was something on my mind during last week’s post that I didn’t get a chance to talk about.  I couldn’t think of a way to fit it in with what I already had written down.  So here is essentially an addendum to last week’s post.

I wanted to take a little bit to talk about a movie that’s been stirring up a teeny bit of controversy lately, American Sniper.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s based off the book of the same name, an autobiographical book by Chris Kyle.  From what I’ve heard and read about it (I haven’t read the book or seen the movie), it’s about his tours in the Middle East which made him one of the deadliest snipers in the history of the American military.

Controversy comes into play in the fact that Chris Kyle lied about some things.  He lied about punching Jesse Ventura in the face (as Ventura proved when he won the defamation suit against the Kyle family).  He lied about being sent to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where he claimed that he shot around thirty looters from atop the Super Dome.  He lied about the incident at the gas station, where he claimed he shot two men who tried to carjack him and was then released by police because of a phone call from someone high up in the government.  All of these instances have never been corroborated in any form, and Kyle himself said that some details in his book weren’t true in a deposition during the Ventura defamation case.  Kyle himself died before the outcome of the case, when he was shot and killed at a shooting range in Texas.

Now, before I continue, I feel I must address something.  I am not writing this as an attempt to slander or attack Chris Kyle in any way.  I point that out only because there are a lot of people on the conservative side of things who are taking great offense at anyone who criticizes the man or the movie based on him.  I am only offering the background on what I know, and what I know Chris Kyle probably lied about.  His case raises some interesting questions about book to movie adaptations, especially when adapting a book written about real life events.

What do you do when you’re adapting a source whose credibility comes into question?  How do you deal with the inconsistencies and the lies?  How do you know for sure that the truths are true?  It’s a complicated issue, because as we all know, when Hollywood starts making things “based on a true story”, creative license gets involved and suddenly the “true story” can get stretched all over the place.

In this case, Clint Eastwood (the director) decided to ignore the falsehoods in Kyle’s stories, choosing instead to focus solely on Kyle’s time overseas.  It was probably the smartest thing to do, given the circumstances.  But it raises its own issues, in that the movie might be painting Chris Kyle as an infallible hero instead of the fallible human he clearly was.  I’ve also heard that in the movie, Kyle is portrayed as being reluctant, or at least conflicted with what he has to do.  Now, according to some excerpts from the book, Kyle wasn’t very conflicted in reality.  In one of the excerpts I read, he shoots a kid with a gun, and after he watches the kid’s mother run up to his dead body, he remarks that if she really wanted to protect him she shouldn’t have let him join the insurgency.

So there’s the creative license coming into play.  But should this reflect badly on the movie for not accurately portraying Chris Kyle’s true demeanor and attitude towards what he was doing?

As I said last week, I don’t believe that a movie should be judged solely on how well it adapts the source material, because a movie can’t perfectly adapt a book.  It’s just not possible for many different reasons.  But this case is different, because instead of adapting a fictional book, Hollywood adapted a book that purported to be the truth.  And in ignoring the falsehoods in the book, it runs the risk of portraying Kyle as something he wasn’t in real life.  I don’t want to go and say that he wasn’t a hero, but there are things about his story that are questionable.

The way I see it, Eastwood had two options.  The first option was to include everything, including those things we know are most likely not true.  This runs the risk of making those incidents appear more believable, as well as glorifying killing in a disturbing way (the murder of the looters would have been the murder of Americans by an American, on American soil, which would raise a lot of disturbing questions and issues).  The second option, the one Eastwood took, was to leave out the falsehoods, focusing the story solely on his military service and his return home.  But as I said before, this runs the risk of portraying Chris Kyle as someone he wasn’t.  There really wasn’t a perfect solution here, so Eastwood had to make do with what he had.

It’s a frustrating situation, because while I believe that movies shouldn’t be judged by how they adapt a book, the situation is drastically different when the book is labeled as a true story.  It’s even more so when certain parts of the book have been proven false, because then a filmmaker runs the risk of portraying a false story as the truth.  It’s true that when Hollywood adapts something, creative license often comes into play, and many parts of the story are dressed up for better effect, but they’re still making an adaptation of a real-life story.  On some level, they have to keep it grounded within the reality of that story.  Imagine if the Eric Brockovich story had been revealed to be a complete fake.  Hollywood would have been in deep water because of their movie based off her story.  It’s healthy to be somewhat skeptical of a movie “based on a true story”, but on some level they have to be based in reality.

So if and when you watch American Sniper, just remember that this is Hollywood’s version of a story, and shouldn’t be taken as being one hundred percent true and accurate.  There is a fine distinction between the Hollywood reality, and the real reality.


Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a great week everyone.


Also, this is post number fifty on the blog.  Woot woot!  Milestone achieved.  Give me all the glory.  ALL OF IT.  I want it.  I WANT IT NOW.  GIVE IT TO ME.


I’m just gonna go now…


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