It is no easy feat to quiet a theater audience. Once the credits start rolling, it is normal to hear whispers and laughs as people get up from their seats to awkwardly shuffle towards the exit. Only on rare occasions do films paralyze their audiences, keeping them in their seats.
Then, the community of viewers feels small in comparison to the film-watching experience. Silence is the automatic response — awe, the inevitable sentiment. There is no need for a soundtrack, and no one moves.
“American Sniper” is such a film.
Based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” the film portrays Chris Kyle’s life from his early childhood and rodeo days to his final years following his fourth tour in Iraq. Jason Hall has done a superb job in adapting the work for the silver screen, leaving the book’s most important elements intact.
But the film is not necessarily a collection of the best scenes from the book. Thanks to Bradley Cooper’s nuanced portrayal of Chris Kyle, the film gains a depth and humanity missing from the autobiography.
Cooper embodies a man fighting for all the right reasons — his country, his family and his brothers in arms. But what makes Cooper’s performance so formidable is how he expresses the weight that comes from experiencing war. More often than not, words fail to express what Kyle is actually feeling. Instead, the twitch of an eye or a subtle smirk reveals more than the spoken word.
Cooper demonstrates not only significant acting acumen, but also an uncanny resemblance to Kyle himself. Cooper gained mass and muscle to play this part — but, unlike the usual Hollywood workout regimen that results in defined abs and a toned torso, Cooper is thick, highlighting the body’s role in combat, where utility is valued over conventional attractiveness. This new physique is put to work in the many combat sequences throughout the film — most notably in a heart-pounding confrontation with an enemy sniper with the additional threat of a looming sandstorm.
Cooper and Clint Eastwood talked with Kyle’s father and wife, Wayne Kyle and Taya Kyle, before completing the film in order to receive their blessing and input, promising them that the film would serve as a respectful tribute to an American hero. Without a doubt, “American Sniper” is a resounding success, honoring the life of an extraordinary human being without romanticizing it.