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The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle takes a measured approach to the story of a murdered American veteran

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

Fabien Nury and Brüno had a difficult task ahead of them when they decided to tackle the story of renowned sniper Chris Kyle, the subject of the Clint Eastwood-directed movie American Sniper. Books about real soldier experiences can be quite rough, difficult to digest even. There’s the temptation to expose and judge the soldier solely based on his actions, context be damned. In cases such these, though, context matters. Military training comes with a very specific set of experiences that blur the lines between duty and morality, both during and after a war.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle: An American Legend is a graphic novel documentary (and I use this word intentionally) that goes beyond the subject alluded to in the title. It explores Chris Kyle’s life post-military service, the events that led up to his murder by the hands of Eddie Ray Routh, and how his wife Taya took over her husband’s businesses while also being the face of his estate.

Kyle is known as one of the most effective snipers in American military history, having more than 150 confirmed kills in his service record along with several commendations for “acts of heroism” in combat (most notably during The Iraq War). To argue against the man’s resumé is an exercise in futility. Kyle fulfilled his duty and did so in a fashion that earned him the nickname “The Legend.”

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

Here’s where things start to get complicated. Upon the release of his autobiographical book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (co-written by Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice), and especially during the book’s promo tour, it came to light that Kyle used to refer to enemy combatants in Iraq as “savages”. He never held back in affirming his position on that, although he did clarify that the term was only applied to the enemy soldiers he engaged with in the battlefield due to their treatment of the general populace.

Nury and Brüno decided to approach this part of Kyle’s mentality by letting Kyle do most of the talking. They did so by adopting extensive recreations of TV interviews where Kyle explains his word choice and how it shaped his understanding of the role he fulfilled in the military. Specifically, Nury and Brüno adapted an interview with Fox NewsBill O’Reilly in which the American Sniper book was being promoted to address the language Kyle used to refer to the enemy.

Nury’s script makes sure the segment doesn’t condemn or support Kyle’s views. They’re just allowed to become a part of the graphic novel documentary, there for the reader to process and think on. Whatever political musings make it to the surface are left entirely to the dialogue exchanges contained within the sequence.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

In adopting this approach, the book projects an unbiased quality that lets the reader come to their own conclusions as to Kyle’s worldview. This is also evident in how Nury and Brüno treat Kyle’s enthusiastic appreciation of guns and his support of gun rights. For instance, Brüno doesn’t go out of his way to take special of care of every minute detail usually afforded to guns shown in this type of story.

Guns in The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle are part of the culture Kyle was immersed in. The become an interesting counterpoint to the book’s treatment of the man who shot and killed Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield, Eddie Ray Routh. Nury and Brüno’s psyche profile of Routh, who was also in the military, is given all the complexity it requires to get to the reason why he turned to murder.

In a sense, Routh is the antithesis of Kyle. His military experience is that of a person at odds with the things he expected from Army life. There’s doubt as to whether he killed anyone while in service or if he ever truly adjusted to life as a soldier. We’re told he admired Kyle and that he perhaps might’ve felt there was some kinship between them based on certain commonalities found in the military experience. Ultimately, though, their lives could not have been more different.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle

Again, the focus falls on the presentation of as much information as possible for the purpose of understanding the man and his actions. In a sense, Nury and Brüno take as much care not to turn Routh into a classic villain as they do in not making Kyle come off as a heroic martyr. There’s some commentary on gun violence and how it’s at the center of Kyle’s legend and Routh’s crime, but again, they are presented without approval or condemnation.

The Man Who Shot Chris Kyle subscribes to the idea of understanding the events that transpired among the people involved in its story and how they led to the tragedy that transpired in February 2013. Nury and Brüno recognize their story is full conflicts and contradictions, but they don’t try to clean it up. They lean into the messiness and try to portray it sensibly. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck for this kind of exercise to be successful, but the creative team achieve it by leaving as much as possible in the reader’s hands.

Zeismic