Jason Hall's first meeting with Chris Kyle didn't start out so well. The screenwriter flew from Los Angeles to Texas in 2010 to meet the ex-Navy SEAL at the Barefoot Ranch near Dallas, where Kyle was drinking with a bunch of Texas Rangers. "It was a rough room to walk into," recalls Hall, 41. "I don't drink, so I didn't fit in very well."Share
Hall did, however, wrestle — or at least had in college. And after a good-natured grappling in the dining-room bar that ended with one of the Rangers on the floor, the atmosphere grew noticeably warmer. It was, in fact, the beginning of a beautiful, if somewhat awkward, friendship, a partnership between a Hollywood actor turned screenwriter (Hall started his career with a recurring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then went on to pen films such as Spread and Paranoia) and the U.S. military's most deadly sharpshooter, a hardened veteran of two Iraq wars with 160 confirmed kills. And it's a friendship made all the more poignant by Kyle's shocking murder two years ago, at age 38 — he was shot at a Texas gun range on Feb. 2, 2013, by a mentally ill Iraq War veteran whom Kyle had been trying to counsel — along with the Christmas Day release of American Sniper, the film about Kyle that Hall spent four years laboring to get in theaters. Hall's script, as filmed by Clint Eastwood with Bradley Cooper in the starring role, has become something of a cinematic Rorschach test. To some, it's a patriotic trumpet call. To others, a disturbing anti-war statement. But whatever else it may be, American Sniper is at least in part one friend's eulogy for another.
"I had come to love the guy," says Hall, his voice cracking with emotion as he recalls his last communication with Kyle, the day before his murder. "I was ready to turn in the first draft of the script on Feb. 1, so I texted him. He replied, 'Good luck. I hope you work again.' " (Read more.)