Saturday, February 07, 2015

Film Review: 'Mr. Turner'

Mr Turner, Mike Leigh's biopic of the artist, features Timothy Spall's finest performance since Secrets & Lies, says Robbie Collin

31 October 2014

In the new Mike Leigh film, Mr Turner, you can hardly miss the Mister. Joseph Mallord William is a sore thumb from the opening scene, where he’s sketching a windmill somewhere in rural Holland, poised like a pot-bellied stork among the rushes. The scene tells you everything you need to know about the man and the places he feels happiest: in short, it’s landscape as portrait, and Turner would have smiled at that.
Leigh’s film is a supremely enjoyable biopic of the English artist known as “the painter of light” – someone whose canvases, which revelled in the possibilities of colour and movement, could almost be early forerunners of cinema.
Turner is played by Timothy Spall, who gives the finest performance of his career to date, surpassing even his work in Leigh’s Secrets & Lies 18 years ago. It won Spall the best actor prize at Cannes this year, and the question now is just how far the role can take him: the the Baftas, almost inevitably; as far as the Oscars, very possibly. It’s a musty performance, one that gets in your clothes and hair, and that’s absolutely meant as a compliment. Spall coughs and shambles about the place like a moulting, phlegmy Gruffalo, eyes bright and hungry, bottom lip jutting proudly forward like the spout of a custard jug.
His repertoire of grunts alone comfortably extends past a hundred, and you wonder if perhaps Spall went Method for the role, living for years in a sty until he got the voice, posture and smell just right. But beyond the troughfuls of fun tics, Spall makes Turner tenderly and totally human, which has the effect of making his artistic talents seem even more God-given.
The film begins in 1826, with Turner 51 years old and in the ascendant. He works from a studio in his London town house, where his housekeeper Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson) and elderly father, William Senior (Paul Jesson), keep things ticking over.
Turner’s dealings with them both, including solemn groping of the former, are brisk and straightforward. The painting process, though, is very different: Leigh shoots it in a way that it sometimes resembles an occult ritual. Early in the film, when Turner’s father visits a paint shop to replenish his son’s supplies, you see the pigments are piled up on silver platters, like spices in a souk, or potion ingredients, begging to be mixed.
Light is what moves Turner, and he moves with the light. The film spans the quarter-century until his death in 1851, and we follow him wherever he goes. At a patron’s country estate, he tussles with a gloomy rival (Martin Savage) and tries to sing a Purcell aria – he does it amusingly badly but also tenderly, and finding the precise point of articulation between the two is pure, neat Leigh.
In Margate, Turner meets a friendly landlady (Marion Bailey), who comes to play an important role in his later life. At the Royal Academy, we see him buzzing around, joking with friends, dishing out advice and, in a perfect, self-contained skit, winding up John Constable (James Fleet).
The film is studded with such gem-like supporting roles, many of which are taken by regular Leigh players, including Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen. Picking favourites is too difficult, but let’s just say the lisping writer and patron John Ruskin, hilariously played by Joshua McGuire as an oblivious smartypants, has stwuck a chord with a few of us cwitics.
In its shape, Mr Turner is very much like Topsy-Turvy, Leigh’s superb, under-seen 1999 film about the comic-opera writers WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, set during the writing of The Mikado. But this is an even more ambitious work about the making of art, in which the process is not just shown as an almighty, if often very funny, strain, but something that, when done correctly, and with the stars aligned just so, can bear the artist past death and into history.
When Leigh recreates the scene that inspired Turner’s 1839 masterpiece The Fighting Temeraire, he shows the artist finding hope not in the old, exhausted warship being tugged to her last berth, but the squat, blackened tugboat in front.
“The ghost of the past,” says one of his friends, nodding sorrowfully at the larger vessel.
“No,” Turner barks. “The past is the past. You’re observing the future! Smoke. Iron. Steam!” Leigh and Spall’s genius is to show us both in one man: Turner is future and past, progress and history, tugboat and Temeraire.

Mike Leigh's acclaimed biopic of JMW Turner earned Timothy Spall a Best Actor award in Cannes for his portrayal of the artist
What the other newspapers are saying
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "Mr Turner is funny, humane and visually immaculate, hitting its confident stride straight away. It combines domestic intimacy with an epic sweep, and a lyrical gentleness pervades each scene, tragic or comic. Every line, every detail, every minor character, however casual or apparently superfluous, is absolutely necessary."
Geoffrey MacNab, The Independent"Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, richly detailed character study with a magnificent central performance from Timothy Spall. This may be 19th-century costume fare but it is made with the same precise attention to its protagonists' yearnings and comic foibles as we find in Leigh's contemporary dramas with Spall, whether Secrets and Lies or his woefully underrated All Or Nothing."
Dave Calhoun, Time Out: "Not only do we end up with a vivid, surprising and soulful sense of one artist and his work, but Leigh also offers us a commanding view of a city, London, and country at the dawn of the modern age and of a man being overawed and overtaken by new technologies such as photography and the railways. As ever with Leigh, 'Mr Turner' addresses the big questions with small moments. It's an extraordinary film, all at once strange, entertaining, thoughtful and exciting."
Nigel Andrews, Financial Times: "It’s a beautiful film because it isn’t afraid of beauty’s uglinesses. Artists don’t personify the ideal or dazzling worlds they envision. They are the workshop, not the work. So it’s right, in a biopic, that we see the mess of the creative life."
David Sexton, Evening Standard"Mike Leigh takes the painting seriously enough. He says he used actors in the film who could actually paint and Timothy Spall, who plays Turner so magnificently, learned to do so for the part. Yet the film never tries to explain Turner’s art, merely showing his mastery by the speed and certainty with which he attacks the canvas, scrubbing it with a brush, rubbing it with his finger, spitting at it even."

Getting Medieval

Let’s leave the Middle Ages out of discussions of modern Islam. 

Friday, February 06, 2015

Does the barbarism have a logic?

By Charles Krauthammer
February 5, 2015

Protesters hold up pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah and pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, as they chant slogans during a rally in Amman to show their loyalty to the King and against the Islamic State, February 5, 2015. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)
Why did they do it? What did the Islamic State think it could possibly gain by burning alive a captured Jordanian pilot?
I wouldn’t underestimate the absence of logic, the sheer depraved thrill of a triumphant cult reveling in its barbarism. But I wouldn’t overestimate it either. You don’t overrun much of Syria and Iraq without having deployed keen tactical and strategic reasoning.
So what’s the objective? To destabilize Jordan by drawing it deeply into the conflict.
At first glance, this seems to make no sense. The savage execution has mobilized Jordan against the Islamic State and given it solidarity and unity of purpose.
Yes, for now. But what about six months hence? Solidarity and purpose fade quickly. Think about how post-9/11 American fervor dissipated over the years of inconclusive conflict, yielding the war fatigue of today. Or how the beheading of U.S. journalists galvanized the country against the Islamic State, yet less than five months later, the frustrating nature of that fight is creating divisions at home.
Jordan is a more vulnerable target because, unlike the U.S., it can be destabilized. For nearly a century Jordan has been a miracle of stability — an artificial geographic creation led by a British-imposed monarchy, it has enjoyed relative domestic peace and successful political transitions with just four rulers over four generations.
Compared to Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, similarly created, Jordan is a wonder. But a fragile one. Its front-line troops and special forces are largely Bedouin. The Bedouin are the backbone of the Hashemite monarchy, but they are a minority. Most of the population is non-indigenous Palestinians, to which have now been added 1.3 million Syrian refugees, creating major social and economic strains.
Most consequential, however, is the Muslim Brotherhood with its strong Jordanian contingent — as well as more radical jihadist elements, some sympathetic to the Islamic State. An estimated 1,500 Jordanians have already joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Others remain home, ready to rise when the time is right.
The time is not right today. Jordanian anger is white hot. But the danger is that as the Jordanians attack — today by air, tomorrow perhaps on the ground — they risk a drawn-out engagement that could drain and debilitate the regime, one of the major bulwarks against radicalism in the entire region.
We should be careful what we wish for. Americans worship at the shrine of multilateralism. President Obama’s Islamic State strategy is to create a vast coalition with an Arab/Kurdish vanguard and America leading from behind with air power.
The coalition is allegedly 60 strong. (And doing what?) Despite administration boasts, the involvement of the Arab front line — Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — has been minimal and symbolic. In fact, we’ve just now learned that the UAE stopped flying late last year.
The Obama policy has not fared terribly well. Since the policy was launched, the Islamic State has nearly doubled its Syrian domain. It’s hard to see a ­Jordanian-Saudi force succeeding where Iraq’s Shiite militias, the Iraqi military, the Kurds and U.S. airpower have thus far failed.
What’s missing, of course, are serious boots on the ground, such as Syria’s once-ascendant non-jihadist rebels, which Obama contemptuously dismissed and allowed to wither. And the Kurds, who are willing and able to fight, yet remain scandalously undersupplied by this administration.
Missing most of all is Turkey. It alone has the size and power to take on the Islamic State. But doing so would strengthen, indeed rescue, Turkey’s primary nemesis, the Iranian-backed Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.
Turkey’s price for entry was an American commitment to help bring down Assad. Obama refused. So Turkey sits it out.
Why doesn’t Obama agree? Didn’t he say that Assad must go? The reason is that Obama dares not upset Assad’s patrons, the Iranian mullahs, with whom Obama dreams of concluding a grand rapprochement.
For Obama, this is his ticket to Mt. Rushmore. So in pursuit of his Nixon-to-China Iran fantasy, Obama eschews Turkey, our most formidable potential ally against both the Islamic State and Assad.
What’s Obama left with? Fragile front-line Arab states, like Jordan.
But even they are mortified by Obama’s blind pursuit of detente with Tehran, which would make the mullahs hegemonic over the Arab Middle East. Hence the Arabs, the Saudis especially, hold back from any major military commitment to us. Jordan, its hand now forced by its pilot’s murder, may now bravely sally forth on its own. But at great risk and with little chance of ultimate success.

Obama: Christianity No Different Than the Islamic State

Posted By Raymond Ibrahim On February 6, 2015 @ 12:18 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 36 Comments

President Barack Obama speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, February 5, 2015 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

As the world reacts with shock and horror at the increasingly savage deeds of the Islamic State (IS)—in this case, the recent immolation of a captive—U.S. President Obama’s response has been one of nonjudgmental relativism.

Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, Obama counseled Americans to get off their “high horse” and remember that Christians have been equally guilty of such atrocities:
Unless we get on our high horse and think this [beheadings, sex-slavery, crucifixion, roasting humans] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
There is so much to be said here.  First, the obvious: the wide gulf between violence and hate “justified in the name of Christ” and violence and hate “justified in the name of Muhammad” is that Christ never justified it, while Muhammad continuously did.

This is not just a theoretic point; it is the very reason that Muslims are still committing savage atrocities.  Every evil act IS commits—whether beheading, crucifying, raping, enslaving, or immolating humans—has precedents in the deeds of Muhammad, that most “perfect” and “moral” man, per Koran 33:21 and 68:4 (see “The Islamic State and Islam” for parallels).

Does Obama know something about Christ—who eschewed violence and told people to love and forgive their enemies—that we don’t?  Perhaps he’s clinging to that solitary verse that academics like Philip Jenkins habitually highlight, that Christ—who “spoke to the multitudes in parables and without a parable spoke not” once said, “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34, 13:34).

Jesus was not commanding violence against non-Christians but rather predicting that Christians will be persecuted, including by family members (as, for example, when a Muslim family slaughters their child for “apostatizing” to Christianity as happens frequently).

Conversely, in its fatwa justifying the burning of the Jordanian captive, the Islamic State cites Muhammad putting out the eyes of some with “heated irons” (he also cut their hands and feet off).  The fatwa also cites Khalid bin al-Walid—the heroic “Sword of Allah”—who burned apostates to death, including one man whose head he set on fire to cook his dinner on.

Nor is the Islamic State alone in burning people.  Recently a “mob accused of burning alive a Christian couple in an industrial kiln in Pakistan allegedly wrapped a pregnant mother in cotton so she would catch fire more easily.”

As for the Islamic “authorities,” Al Azhar—the Islamic world’s oldest and most prestigious university which cohosted Obama’s 2009 “New Beginning” speech—still assigns books that justify every barbarity IS commits, including burning people alive.  Moreover, Al Azhar—a religious institution concerned with what is and is not Islamic—has called for the cutting off of the hands and feet of IS members, thereby legitimizing such acts according to Islamic law.

On the other hand, does Obama know of some secret document in the halls of the Vatican that calls for amputating, beheading or immolating enemies of Christ to support his religious relativism?

As for the much maligned Crusades, Obama naturally follows the mainstream academic narrative that anachronistically portrays the crusaders as greedy, white, Christian imperialists who decided to conquer peace-loving Muslims in the Middle East.

Again, familiarity with the true sources and causes behind the Crusades shows that they were a response to the very same atrocities being committed by the Islamic State today.  Consider the words of Pope Urban II, spoken almost a millennium ago, and note how well they perfectly mirror IS behavior:
From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians [i.e., Muslim Turks] … has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country [as slaves], and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion ….  What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent….  On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength…
If the crusaders left their own lands and families to come to the aid of persecuted Christians and to liberate Jerusalem, here is Obama portraying them as no better than the Islamic State—which isn’t surprising considering that, far from helping persecuted Christians, Obama’s policies have significantly worsened their plight.

According to primary historical texts—not the modern day fantasies peddled by the likes of Karen Armstrong, an ex-nun with an axe to grind—Muslim persecution of Christians was indeed a primary impetus for the Crusades.

As for the Inquisition, this too took place in the context of Christendom’s struggle with Islam. (Isn’t it curious that the European nation most associated with the Inquisition, Spain, was also the only nation to be conquered and occupied by Islam for centuries?)  After the Christian reconquest of Spain, Muslims, seen as untrustworthy, were ordered either to convert to Christianity or go back to Africa whence they came.  Countless Muslims feigned conversion by practicing taqiyya and living as moles, always trying to subvert Spain back to Islam.  Hence the extreme measures of the Inquisition—which, either way, find no support in the teachings of Christ.

Conversely, after one of his jihads, Muhammad had a man tortured to death in order to reveal his tribe’s hidden treasure and “married” the same man’s wife hours later.  Unsurprisingly, the woman, Safiya, later confessed that “Of all men, I hated the prophet the most—for he killed my husband, my brother, and my father,” before “marrying” her.

In short, Obama’s claim that there will always be people willing to “hijack religion for their own murderous ends” is patently false when applied to the Islamic State and like organizations and individuals.

Muhammad himself called for the murder of his enemies; he permitted Muslims to feign friendship to his enemies in order to assassinate them; he incited his followers to conquer and plunder non-believers, promising them a sexual paradise if they were martyred; he kept sex slaves and practiced pedophilia with his “child-bride,” Aisha.

He, the prophet of Islam, did everything the Islamic State is doing.

If Muslims are supposed to follow the sunna, or example, of Muhammad, and if Muhammad engaged in and justified every barbarity being committed by the Islamic State and other Muslims—how, exactly, are they “hijacking” Islam?

Such is the simple logic Obama fails to grasp.  Or else he does grasp it—but hopes most Americans don’t.

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Still More of President Obama’s Moral Equivalence

President Barack Obama bows his head towards the Dalai Lama as he was recognized during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.

President Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, said: 
Unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
This is banal.  

The problem with all such high-horse declarations by Obama is his continual omission of historical context and, in this case, his conflation of the frequent with the rare. The Crusades began in 1095, almost a millennium ago; the Inquisition in 1478, now over 500 years past. When the president says “people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” he should remember that all religions at the time committed terrible deeds that shock the modern sense of morality — given the savage wars between Christendom and Islam, and the religious purifications and civil discord common to all the religious factional strife that played out, violently, in accord with the ethos of the times. 

Slavery was outlawed in the U.S. in 1865. Jim Crow ended officially a half-century ago. Indentured servitude, however, continues, almost exclusively among some Islamic groups in the Middle East and Africa. The caste system and ethnic and religious tribalism that institutionalized discrimination and second-class status, quite akin to Jim Crow, persist in places in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. I doubt today whether a Jew of any nationality would be allowed to immigrate and buy real estate in too many corners of the Islamic Middle East. Outside of the West, women and homosexuals are often treated no differently than in the Seventh Century.
In fact, Christian countries were the first to legally end the age-old human sin of the slave trade, and the first to outlaw slavery’s continuance. The president, is fond of historical sloppiness and moral equivalence (cf. the Cairo Speech). But what is the point of citing sins of 1,000, 500, 150, or 50 years ago, without acknowledging 1) that such pathologies still continue today outside the West, especially in the world of Islam, and 2) that Christianity had a unique role in ending these wrongs?

So the question for the president is, why does such medieval violence persist to a much greater degree among so many Islamic extremists in the present world than among most zealots of other religions? (This is an empirical statement. Cf., for instance, the nature of recent global terror attacks in resources such as the Global Terrorism Database). And why search the distant past for examples of moral equivalence, unless the present does not offer suitable data?
Did Churchill point to the excesses of Oliver Cromwell, or did Daladier to the French Revolution, to remind their contemporaries that National Socialism in Germany was not doing anything differently in the 1930s than had their own countries in the distant past? Those of the 1930s who sought to make such facile comparisons between their own past and Germany’s present were written off as appeasers.

Areas of Central and Latin America are as poor as the Middle East, but Christian liberation theologists, unlike the Islamic State, are not beheading and burning prisoners alive to advance their redistributionist cause. Chinese imperialists and colonialists have absorbed Tibet, but the Dalai Lama is not sending suicide bombers into China. The children of East Prussians expelled from 1945-47 are not suiting up with suicide vests to attack Poles. Impoverished Hindu extremists, angry at centuries of British colonialism, do not hijack planes and ram them into high-rises in British cities. Jews are not blowing up cartoonists and satirists in Paris and Germany who deny or caricature the Holocaust.

No one has easy answers to the dilemma of contemporary violent Islamism; for brief interludes in the recent past, secular ideologies were more likely than radical Islam to be the expressed popular driving forces in the violent Middle East (e.g., fascism [1930s], Communism [1940s], Baathism and Pan-Arabism [1950s], which produced the Grand Mufti, Nasser, the Assads, Arafat, Saddam, and Qaddafi). The president and his advisers should be investigating why radical Islam is currently terrorizing the globe, rather than denying it entirely, hiding it by euphemisms, or excusing it by citing morally equivalent examples from the past.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Today's Tune: Arcade Fire - Ocean of Noise (Live 2007)

Ernie Banks, The Girl and The Man in a Wheelchair

John Kass | Feb 04, 2015

Everyone who grew up in Chicago seems to have their own Ernie Banks story, and with memorial services held last week for the Cubs Hall of Fame player, we're in a remembering mood.

"How about if the Cubs all wear 14 on Opening Day?" suggested reader Stephanie Weiland on Facebook.

That sounds like a great idea, for Banks, for the Cubs and for the city of Chicago.

And there was this note from Lloyd Tressel, of Naperville, Illinois, who years ago was on a flight from Arizona to Chicago. The jet was stuck on the tarmac.

"Ernie stands up and says 'Let's not just sit here, let's do some exercises.' So he led us in some basic gymnastics. Everybody was laughing and going along with him. He then decides to go into coach, and he does the same thing there."

Finally, they had to change planes and were waiting in the gate area, "And Ernie started the same exercise program in the concourse. He had hundreds of people involved, and everyone was laughing and smiling -- it was great!"

My favorite story is the one about Ernie Banks, the girl and the man in the wheelchair. Kathy Hounihan is a reader from Will County, Illinois. Years ago, she lived in Roseland, Illinois. Her father, Salvatore, who worked in a paint factory, was ill.

She'd read my Sunday column on Banks' passing and what he meant to Chicago, and decided to write me.

"It just struck a chord with me and I got right up out of my chair and went into my husband's office and I said 'I have to write to John Kass.'"

What follows is her letter:

"Mr. Kass, I read your tribute to Ernie Banks in today's Tribune and just had to write this email.

I am now almost 69 years old and grew up in the South Side of the city you detailed in your excellent article. I was there, and I lived it. My Roseland home was a blessing to us and still is in my memory. I loved growing up as an Italian in the old neighborhood.

I was the third child, and a girl, in a family of four, raised by a father who worked at the Sherwin-Williams paint factory and a stay at home mother. We went to the local Catholic school, St. Anthony of Padua.

Now here is my story. When I was 13 years old, my father was stricken with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. At the time, he was undiagnosed. He eventually lived another 18 years. We were fortunate that he contracted the strain that allowed him to live that long with us.

He was always a Sox fan, but loved Ernie Banks. My mother and I were staunch Cubs fans. So our household was split, Cubs/Sox, and boy, how we fought for our teams!

When I was about 15 years old, a cousin of mine went to a gas station opening on the South Side where Ernie Banks appeared. He approached Mr. Banks for an autograph and told him about my father being a huge fan and that he was confined to a wheel chair with an undiagnosed ailment. (Dad wasn't diagnosed officially until the end of his life when we took him to Northwestern University.)

One Saturday afternoon I was in my room when the doorbell rang. I heard excited talking in our dining room so I went to find out who the visitor was. There stood Ernie Banks and his wife in the middle of our dining room shaking hands with MY FATHER! They were all dressed up and on their way to a restaurant not far from where we lived. Mr. Banks explained that when he heard about my dad's situation from my cousin he just had to stop by to say hello. My mother, who was always gracious, asked Ernie and his wife to have a seat at the table and offered refreshments. Mr. Banks said he'd have a beer! Don't remember if his wife had anything since I couldn't take my eyes off my hero.

At first Ernie was rather timid in his conversation with my dad, but as my dad began rattling off statistics, specific games Ernie scored in, what teams the Cubs beat and when, Ernie was hooked. They spoke about an hour until Ernie rose and said it was time for them to go. Both he and his wife shook hands all around and thanked my folks for their hospitality. He also presented my dad with an autographed picture of himself which my parents kept on the mantelpiece of our fake fireplace until the day dad died!

I couldn't wait to go to school on Monday to tell all my friends. I never wanted to wash my right hand again! My friends were green with envy. My brother, who was 3 years younger than I am, also told his friends, but they wouldn't believe him until they came to the house and actually saw the signed photograph.

Great day! Great Man! May he rest in peace."

It's what we do in private that counts.

And Ernie Banks didn't have to show up in Roseland. His time was precious, and back then, all of Chicago wanted a piece of it. But he took time and spent it with a man he didn't know.

There was no crowd watching. There were no reporters or publicity people, no advertisers, no big shots. Hardly anyone was there to notice.

Just a man in a wheelchair. And the daughter who never forgot a kindness shown to her dad.

'American Sniper': The Book Ends, and the Story Begins

‘American Sniper’ Script Looks for the Human Behind the Hero

By Robert Ito
January 28, 2014
In “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) peers through the scope of a high-powered rifle, finger on the trigger, preparing to shoot a young boy. A Navy SEAL on his first tour of duty in Iraq, he has been tasked with protecting the lives of the Marines under his watch, and the boy is running full speed at a convoy of them, his hands wrapped around an enormous Russian-made grenade.
Given the nature of a sniper’s assignment, any reasonably intuitive moviegoer has a fair idea how this is going to end. (If you’re still not sure, now would be a good time to stop reading.) Mr. Kyle shoots the boy square in the chest, and when a woman grabs the grenade and tries to finish the job, he shoots her, too. Both die.
The scene is crucial to the film, but you won’t find any mention of a boy being killed in the book “American Sniper,” the autobiography upon which the film is based. After Mr. Kyle submitted the galleys to the Department of Defense and the United States Naval Special Warfare Command for review, that part of the story was removed. “Things were redacted from the book,” said Jason Hall, the film’s screenwriter. “And one of the things that was redacted was the way that that went down.”
And that’s not the only way that the Clint Eastwood-directed film version of “American Sniper,” which has gone on to break box-office records, differs from the 2012 best seller. Much about Mr. Kyle’s life is already the stuff of armed forces lore: the most confirmed sniper kills in American military history; nicknamed “the Legend” by his SEAL teammates; once shot a man from an incredible 2,100 yards out (a little over a mile).
But the Chris Kyle viewers encounter in the film is a much more complicated figure than the one readers find in the book — in large part because of what took place in the months and years between the book’s beginnings and the film’s first day of shooting.
Mr. Kyle began work on his memoir in 2010, just a year after serving four tours of duty in Iraq. In the book, he refers to the enemy as “savages” and describes the “despicable evil” he encountered in Iraq.
“What you’re getting is a glimpse of a man at a particular moment in time,” Mr. Hall said. “He had been at war or training for war for a decade. In places, he sounds downright nasty, but that’s what we created. This is what these people have to be.”
Mr. Hall was already working on a screenplay about Mr. Kyle’s life at that time and had gotten to know the former SEAL through visits and calls, and by watching him interact with his wife and children. Despite struggling with his own demons, Mr. Kyle had been helping other veterans who had returned from the war. “I felt him change in those couple of years,” Mr. Hall said. “You could hear it in his voice. The laughter started coming easier, especially in those last months, when I was writing the script.”

On Feb. 1, 2013, Mr. Hall handed in the first draft of his screenplay. The next day, Mr. Kyle was killed by a former Marine he had been trying to help. Mr. Cooper, who was producing the film and set to star in it, had only been able to have a five-minute chat with Mr. Kyle before he was killed. “It was a cursory conversation,” Mr. Cooper said in a phone interview from Manhattan. “We joked around a bit. He talked about taking me to the back of his truck and knocking the pretty out of me.”
“The book was interesting source material,” Mr. Cooper added. “But it was never going be my primary tool to get into who this guy was, because I literally had the guy” there to consult with directly.
After Mr. Kyle’s death, the task of fleshing out the character beyond what was in the book fell in large part to Mr. Kyle’s widow, Taya, who provided the filmmakers and actors access to home movies, letters and a decade’s worth of emails. “Jason and I spent hours on the phone,” Ms. Kyle said, speaking by phone from her home in Midlothian, Tex. “He would catch me at any time of the day or night, at times where I just needed to cry or vent or go through something. And that was a blessing, because he ended up getting so much more than either of us would have thought you needed for a movie.”
After those conversations, the screenplay changed “immensely,” Mr. Hall said. “The draft that I had written under the tutelage and watchful eye of Chris was much more of a war film.” The focus of the film began to shift more toward the relationship between Chris and Taya, and the struggles that Chris had had in readjusting to civilian life. “What I got was the other side of Chris Kyle that wasn’t in the book,” he said. “The Chris before the war that this woman fell in love with.”
And there were other changes. In the book, Mustafa, an Iraqi sniper and former Olympics marksman, registers as little more than a four-sentence blip. “I really got on Chris about that, and he said that he felt that it was really possible that this guy shot his friend, and he didn’t want to memorialize him in the book,” Mr. Hall said. In the film, the character becomes a much larger figure, Mr. Kyle’s doppelgänger and archnemesis, a shadowy phantom whom the hero ultimately confronts in a Wild West-style showdown.
The film also depicts Mr. Kyle’s beloved brother Jeff, a Marine, bitterly complaining to Mr. Kyle about the war. The scene is shocking — the gung-ho, legendary sniper versus his war-weary younger sibling — and utterly untrue. “In real life, Jeff did not have that moment,” Ms. Kyle said. But millions of other veterans have, so the scene is true in that sense. “Jeff understands that there was a need for that in the movie,” she added. “But for him to wear, it is going to be hard.”
The movie has gained a life far beyond that of the 2012 book, with politicians, pundits and others arguing over the film’s meaning and intentions even as it drew Oscar nominations for, among other things, its screenplay and lead performance.
“It’s very easy to say, this movie’s this and that, and then write it off and say it’s propaganda, which is so insane,” Mr. Cooper said. “Because what you really neglect are the soldiers. To me, Chris was utterly human. I never had to go from icon to human. I was studying a man, and I was trying to inhabit the man.”
Correction: January 29, 2015 
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Bradley Cooper’s producing role with “American Sniper.” He was a producer — not an executive producer.