Moving ‘American Sniper’ Evokes Silence

Daniel McCarthy, Staff Reporter

There aren’t a lot of things that irritate me, but I can tell you that applause at the end of a movie is definitely near the top. Despite my irritation, that inevitable applause has concluded every movie I’ve seen in theaters — all except one: “American Sniper.”

This film, directed by Clint Eastwood, is based on the autobiography of the same name. It follows the journey of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in United States military history. What sets the film apart from other war movies, however, is not the raw acting of Bradley Cooper or gritty portrayal of battle. This film attacks the question that other military movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Black Hawk Down” shy away from: How does a soldier revert back to his domestic life?

“American Sniper,” nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, begins with an illustration of Kyle’s back story. We get to see the timid boy who takes down his first deer, the cocky rodeo amateur who aspires to be a cowboy and the enraged patriot who wants to fight for his country. We see Kyle charm his way into a date with his future wife, Taya; we see him remain lighthearted in training; and we see his timidity once again just before his first kill. The moment Kyle pulls that trigger is the moment we begin to witness his transformation from man to machine, shown brilliantly by Eastwood. 

It was like we had all just been present at Kyle’s funeral and then roughly jerked back into the real world. This movie was a journey I find hard to shake off.”

Kyle begins to struggle with his family life. In total, he goes on four different tours in Iraq, and Eastwood does not lower the intensity of the film when Kyle is back home with his family. Keeping the same pace and dramatic tone in the domestic scenes is a reflection of how Kyle’s family feels about him. Taya tells him, “You’re my husband, you’re the father of my children. Even when you’re here, you’re not here. I see you, I feel you, but you’re not here.”

We see Kyle at home with his family, but it is not the same “legend” we see overseas as a Navy SEAL. That is why Eastwood’s decision to include the home life is so effective; it never actually feels like Kyle stops becoming a sniper.

Aside from attacking some tough issues like PTSD and how soldiers’ families are affected, “American Sniper” shines due to the outstanding performance by Cooper. Cooper has historically been more well known for his comedic roles in movies such as “Wedding Crashers,” “The Hangover,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” His impressive acting in “American Sniper” reflects no previous inexperience. Cooper delivers a performance that resulted in an Oscar nomination.

The most impressive component of this film, however, is its ending. Rather than show the death of Kyle, the final scene sees Kyle happily off to help former Marine Eddie Ray Routh, another soldier with PTSD. It is then that the subtitles came on to a black screen, informing us that Kyle was murdered that day (Routh was found guilty of murder Tuesday of this week).  The film’s following few minutes are a heartwrenching tribute, showing actual footage from Kyle’s funeral procession and memorial service at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

Sitting in the theater after seeing this film, I was floored. Judging by the deafening silence, so was everyone else. No one clapped. No one stood up. No one gathered their things. No one did anything for a moment, and when people finally began moving, it was slowly, somberly, silently. It was like we had all just been present at Kyle’s funeral and then roughly jerked back into the real world. This movie was a journey I find hard to shake off.