Clenching the Nomination - American Sniper - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Clenching the Nomination – American Sniper

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Ryan discusses the scene in Clint Eastwood's American Sniper that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2015 here.

American SniperChris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) has just returned from another tour of duty in Iraq.  He is getting his car repaired at a shop with his young son.  The boy is excitedly talking about the toys he is getting out of the vending machine but Kyle is barely paying attention.  The camera lingers on Cooper’s face which is blank but tense.  It is a man that is barely holding it together.  On the soundtrack you hear the sounds of a car shop exaggerated.  The drilling sounds, the pounding, the machinery and it is all too much for Kyle.  He zeroes in on the drilling and he starts hearing the screams of a small boy that was tortured by a drill earlier in his tour when Kyle was powerless to stop it.  Kyle is about to leave when the film starts focusing on another person in the shop.  He looks at Kyle but is not sure if it is who he thinks he is.  The other man slowly approaches Chris and asks him if he is Chris Kyle.  When the man gets the affirmation, his eyes light up and he shakes Kyle’s hand.  When this is going on you see Kyle get a little tenser and hold his son a little closer and a little tighter.  The other man tells Kyle how he saved his in Iraq, that he carried him out of a house.  The man is excited and happy but Chris is still super tense.  The conversation keeps going and the other soldier shows Kyle his prosthetic leg and Kyle flinches, not at the site of the leg but because Kyle feels like he didn’t do enough.  The other soldier tells Kyle’s son his dad is a hero and the son smiles and looks up at his dad, Kyle just winces and tries to end the conversation is quick as he can.

Many people will point to the scene later in the movie where Chris is at a bar drinking and he breaks down on the phone when talking to his wife as the most powerful moment but the scene in the car shop sets up this further breakdown.  Before the car shop scene, you have seen cracks in Kyle’s façade but this is the time that Kyle could stop lying to himself and think he is OK.  Soon after this scene with his son, he has a further breakdown and yells at nurses at a hospital and it is evident that Kyle is suffering from all the crap that he has seen and been a part of.  The reason this scene is what put the movie over the top for some of the biggest Oscar nominations is the way nothing is spelled out to the audience.  Everything that happens is subtle, Cooper doesn’t change his stance or face much during the scene but the little movements and the facial expressions that quickly cross his face is all the movie had to do to let you see his pain.  After the other soldier talks about how he is happy that he came back close to whole, that he might have lost his leg but is well-adjusted and didn’t break down like others, Kyle starts looking at him a bit more skeptical.  He can’t process how this man can be OK, how he isn’t suffering like others, how he can lose his leg but still be happy to be home and able to move on with his life.  Kyle at this point couldn’t do any of those things, he couldn’t let go of the war, he couldn’t be a good father/husband and he was far from OK.  He takes the compliments and is cordial to the soldier but it is clear he is uncomfortable in the whole situation.  Eastwood also slowly makes the scene more and more claustrophobic with the angles of his shots, editing and his sound mixing.

While some of the action scenes can be shot in the style of a Call of Duty video game level, it is these quiet scenes where Bradley Cooper really shines.  The movie never says that the action is cool or even justified and lets the viewers decide for themselves.  American Sniper is interested in the affects of being the deadliest sniper in a war can take a toll on a man and without the scene in the car shop, the later breakdowns or his comeback would not be affective.  In the end Kyle might take pride in helping veterans cope with being back, this scene shows that he was not always prepared for this state of mind.

There were flashier scenes in the film and there were moments that held much more tension but this scene is the first time you really see the effect that these years have had on the soldier.  Is he lying to himself that what he wants to do is see more action and help his fellow soldiers?  Does he not understand how someone could be so content with NEVER seeing action again?  Does he not trust his fellow soldiers?  I don’t know the answer to these questions because director Clint Eastwood kept the true motivations obscured from us and might even be saying that Chris Kyle himself doesn’t know at this point.  This scene helps paint the rest of the film and the emotional journey the main character goes on.  Without seeing him here, the first time he has a chance to talk to a fellow soldier outside of the battlefield, the scene in the bar wouldn’t be as powerful and the gut punch of the ending wouldn’t hurt so bad either.

While there were moments of the movie that I didn’t think worked perfectly, this scene alone makes me believe that the Academy was right in nominating Cooper for a third time in three years.  He does so much acting with so little action that he really is amazing in this film.  Cooper carries the movie through some of the rough patches and helps justify the Best Picture nod.  Cooper is great throughout the movie but this scene is the one that really made me sit up and pay attention.

Posted by Andrew

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