Lots of talk today about the controversy behind American Sniper during a screenwriters panel featuring seven Oscar nominees at the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The key points in that regard were powerfully made by Sniper’s Academy Award and WGA-nominated writer, Jason Hall who succinctly described his film as the story of Chris Kyle, veteran of four tours of duty in Iraq as a soldier who was “back home, but not back”.  He added that Kyle suffered from Post Traumatic Stress after finding himself in a war where he reportedly did over 160 kills, the largest number in U.S. military history.

I have long described Hall’s script Screenwriters Jason Halland director Clint Eastwood’s film  as less a war movie  and more, the story of a warrior who finds himself balancing love for family with love for country.  No less than Jane Fonda tweeted praise after seeing the film and compared it to her 1978 classic, Coming Home. As for Hall  he made it clear what he felt the movie was about, and it wasn’t meant to be a portrait of a killer as some (who quite frankly seem to be misinterpreting the film are saying). “We know what we intended to do. This is a movie about a soldier, exploring  the archetype of a warrior  and what that cost is and what that cost is to his family,” he said.

chriskyleAfterwards Hall told me the new head of the Veterans Administration really seems to be making a difference, and mentioned how an official with the VA said that there has been more movement on public awareness of the problems for veterans in the last two weeks since the movie has gone wide than what they have been able to achieve in “the last two decades”.  Hall said he has heard from countless vets thanking the filmmakers for American Sniper. He added that officials have told him all this talk around the film, even the controversies, is actually helping their cause because it keeps veterans issues front of mind. Hall mentioned he is working on another screenplay that will deal in a different way on the same topic involving veterans returning from war.

Today’s remarks at the SBIFF Writers Panel, moderated by IndieWire’s Anne Thompson, come one day after First Lady Michelle Obama praised American Sniper after seeing it on the long flight from Saudi Arabia this week. After a panel in Washington D.C. sponsored by Got Your 6, an organization dedicated to the accurate portrayal of problems of veterans and their families  – and featuring Sniper star Bradley Cooper among other industry figures – Mrs. Obama  pointed out the complexity of the film’s portrait of a veteran and his family. “I know there have been critics, but more often than not, this film touches on  many of the emotions and experiences I have heard first-hand  from military families over these past few years, ” she is reported as saying. ” This movie reflects those wrenching stories I’ve heard, the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure, the complicated world, the decisions they are tasked with every day, the stresses of balancing  love of family with love of country, and the challenges of transitioning back  home. .. Here’s why a movie like this is important. The vast majority of Americans  will never have seen these stories or grasp these issues without portrayals like these.”

American Sniper continues its remarkable run at the box office this weekend and will be hitting the $250 million mark imminently. The film could be headed for the all-time record for an R-Rated movie now held by Passion Of The Christ, which ended with a domestic gross of $370 million. Sniper has been nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Cooper.