J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Legend of the American Sniper

There is probably no position in the U.S. military that is more misunderstood than that of scout sniper. The media like to portray them as kill-happy hot doggers, but arguably the classic archetypal military sniper is none other than Sergeant Alvin York. Yet, it was not until the Vietnam era that sniper training was formally established. The duties, responsibilities, training and gear of military and police snipers are fully explained in writer-director Ron Meyer’s Legend of the American Sniper (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

Legend is not the fanciest documentary you will ever see, but it is stuffed with solid information and more than its fair share of insights. A number of military and police snipers, as well as a handful off talking head experts duly explain the role snipers play in securing our national security and public safety. They dispel many misconceptions, such as the sniper as a lone wolf or an operative on a fishing expedition. Anti-social behavior is deliberately weeded out, in favor of team-player abilities. In nearly every case, snipers operate as part of four or five-man teams, dispatched with very specific mission objectives. Ultimately, snipers’ primary duty is to support troops in the field.

The military snipers are the first to suggest in Legend their police counterparts probably have a harder job. If they fire an errant shot it is unfortunate, but these things happen in combat. In contrast, a police sniper would likely face disciplinary hearings and possible prosecution.

Meyer and his battery of experts just might change the way many people think about snipers, if they watch it with an open mind. For instance, we learn the primary task of police snipers is to observe and report, rather than fire off shots. For military snipers, it is their secondary task—war still being war.

The interview subjects are all on-point and totally credible, especially Master Sergeant Russ Clagett, the senior U.S. Army sniper in Afghanistan. He has some telling stories from the field, but he also looks like he could have a second career in action movies if he chose to pursue it. The film further benefits from the participation of Derrick D. Bartlett, a civilian trainer at Snipercraft, Inc, which exclusively provides training for military and police clientele—and he really means exclusively. Plus, you have to give Meyer credit for making an entire film about service snipers without once mentioning Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper, or Clint Eastwood by name. The real life servicemen and peace officers are sufficiently interesting on their own, without invoking movies and celebrities.

In many ways, this is a fortuitously timed release. The snipers interviewed duly remind us those who are best trained in deadly force, including martial arts and marksmanship, are the least likely to abuse their skills. Snipers never really kill to kill for its own sake—they kill to protect their brothers in arms. Meyer’s film looks like it was produced on a tight budget, but he assembled some undeniably impressive veterans, active duty snipers, and law enforcement personnel. Recommended surprisingly highly, Legend of the American Sniper is now available on DVD and BluRay from Mill Creek Entertainment.

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