The marathon-like box office success of American Sniper, which is about to hit the $400 million mark, continues to endure impressively considering the film is about to celebrate its two month anniversary since its limited Christmas Day release. However, amidst the plethora of controversy surrounding the film with Michael Moore, Jesse Ventura and the current trial over the murder of main character, Chris Kyle, there is also another story to be told. This story details the effects of the film’s financial success on Kyle's surviving family. Apparently, as often is the case when a huge sum of money is suddenly introduced into the equation, things are getting awkwardly ugly.
According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, Chris Kyle’s widow, Taya (played by Sienna Miller in the film,) has found herself embroiled in a dispute over American Sniper-related funds that were allegedly promised to the surviving family members of Chris’ SEALs brethren, Ryan Job (portrayed by Jake McDorman) and Marc Lee (portrayed by Luke Grimes.) While things have not quite escalated to the point of a lawsuit, the increasingly fattening funds generated from the book and film seem to be the gunpowder that’s just waiting to ignite.
While there have been conflicting reports about Chris Kyle donating funds collected from his book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, to veteran’s charities, "friends" have apparently been quoted saying that he never personally collected any of the generated book proceeds. It seems that he had plans to distribute them to the families of Ryan Job and Marc Lee. However, the THR report cites that the Kyle family has currently cleared $6 million from the overall American Sniper franchise, with certainly more pieces of the pie to come, and legal experts have told the trade that Chris Kyle’s passing means that the entirety of his assets, estate and intellectual property pass to Taya - regardless of whatever informal promises Chris may have made.
The only legal standing in the disagreement centers on a house Taya accepted from J. Kyle Bass, the co-owner of Craft International, an LLC that Chris Kyle co-founded. The gift was apparently conditional upon the donation of the proceeds to the Job and Lee families. Additionally, a separate legal battle between Taya and Craft over 85% of the LLC’s $2.96 million would cause them to dig up a clause agreed to by Chris during an apparent rocky time in the marriage stating that he did not want Taya involved with Craft in the event of a divorce or his death. This would culminate in late 2014 with a possibly legal precedence-setting deal which included the agreement that Craft would stop using Chris’ name and image; essentially codifying Taya’s ownership of the money-making "Chris Kyle IP."
The idea that Kyle had intended to donate an unknown amount of the proceeds from his original book to the surviving families of Job and Lee is hardly in dispute. However, Kyle had published the book as a lucky survivor of brutal conflicts which would tragically see their lives claimed. As the film’s epilogue would acknowledge, that all changed when Kyle, himself, would meet a tragic end on the homefront when he was shot and killed on February 2, 2013, by a disturbed veteran named Eddie Ray Routh, who Kyle was apparently trying to help. In that sense, the ordeal would seemingly come back to retroactively claim Kyle as a casualty in his own right in the film/book-depicted events. So, should "survivor's guilt" be applicable to someone who didn't end up surviving?
Therein lies the dilemma. If Kyle’s promise to donate proceeds to the families of Job and Lee were legitimate (which is reasonable to assume,) then would the context on which he made said promise have been changed by the military PTSD-related tragedy which claimed his life? Kyle left behind a wife and two young children, whose welfare we have to assume he would see as the most integral of priorities. He certainly didn’t plan on being dead and his apparent intended beneficence to the Job and Lee families had to be exercised under the idea that he would be alive to take care of his own family first. That has to be considered, regardless of how much the Kyle family will bank and the talk of "greed" that will inevitably start to proliferate.
Do proceeds from the ever-growing pot of money from American Sniper HAVE TO go to those families? No, by most accounts. Not legally. However, it would be an honorable gesture to ensure that they at least get SOMETHING reasonable; especially given the amounts in play. Such an idea seems to fall in line with what Kyle would have wanted, despite the money involved being ridiculously more than he could have possibly dreamed.