Monday, December 15, 2014

American Sniper and the role of the sheepdog

Patty here

Earlier this week, I attended a screening of American Sniper, based on the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal who served four tours of duty in Iraq as a sniper, charged with picking off the enemy to protect marines as they patrolled the streets. The Navy credits him with 160 confirmed “kills” among 225 probable kills, making him the most lethal sniper in American military history. Kyle authored a best-selling book about his experiences titled American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is based on that book.

Chris Kyle

A bulked up Bradley Cooper, who gained 40 pounds to play Kyle, aced the steely demeanor of a sniper on a mission.

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle

The film gave the audience a glimpse into the noise, dust and peril of combat, but, for me, those scenes became repetitive and tedious over time. You may know already how this story ends. I won't tell you here, but the most moving moment for me was the rolling of credits after the film ended. There was no background music, only silence as the names glided by.

Something else in the film caught my attention. An early scene depicted Kyle as a young boy on his first deer-hunting trip with his father, the first time he had stopped a beating heart with a bullet. That experience became a thematic element in the movie.

During the hunt, Kyle’s father shared a theory that the world was made up of sheep (victims), wolves (predators) and sheepdogs (the only thing standing between the two). That episode might have been forgotten had it not been for a video sent to me a couple of days later from a homicide detective friend of mine that referenced the sheep/wolf/dog story. 

Curious to see two references in a short span of time, I searched the Internet for the original text until I found its source: Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, who wrote On Killing and On Combat. In the video below, he defines each player in the triad. 

Grossman believes the wolf is a predator with a propensity for violence without empathy. He also believes it takes a predator to hunt a predator. The sheepdog has a propensity for violence but only for a worthy cause. Sheepdogs yearn for righteous battle, which is why Chris Kyle enlisted in the Navy Seals after 9-11. In the film, soldiers who lost their stoic zeal for the mission often lost their lives as a result.

Grossman's philosophy can be applied to writing crime fiction, as well: victims, villains and sometimes less than noble heroes. Thought provoking.



  1. James O. Born12/15/2014 7:42 AM

    Good post, Patty. You may remember a few months ago I had a guest blogger, Jim Defelice. He was the coauthor of that book.

  2. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. from Jacqueline: Hmmm, just checking the blog again, and realized that the comment I posted yesterday (Monday) has not appeared. Gremlins. I read an interview with Chris Kyle recently, in which he commented upon Bradley Cooper playing him in the movie. He said he would have to tie Cooper to his pick up and drive "to take the pretty out of him." Watched the first of those video links - wow! Now let's see if I can post this comment ....