american sniper
Opinion Pieces/Other Writing

Movies That Should Have Been a Short Film: American Sniper

Taking aim at American Sniper.

Have you ever been watching a movie and thought that a scene was really cool? Me too! Movies are made up of scenes! But what if I told you that some movies had scenes that were so good, so impactful and so intelligent that they would make a good short film in their own right? That’s right, welcome to the inaugural edition of Movies That Should Have Been a Short Film, a new series with a painfully unoriginal title.

The concept is simple: I cut a specific scene out of a movie that I think would act effectively as a short film. I discard the rest of the flick–because who needs it?–and just discuss the snippet that I’ve attained. Removed from the context of the rest of the film, it’s very possible that the newly isolated section is altered in meaning. So for example, while a film could has a certain message as a feature length, what if a small portion of it by itself says something different? And what if the film is made even better without the rest of the fluff?

If this series continues I will likely pick flicks that I deem mediocre or bad, just because there’s a lot more to improve. Generally speaking, it wouldn’t make much sense to feature a flick with tons of accolades and respect because how could cutting a piece out of it make it better? I’m not saying that won’t happen, but it’ll be rare.

However, when brewing up this idea, American Sniper jumped into my feeble mind instantly. It’s not that this Clint Eastwood/Bradly Cooper team up is terrible; on the contrary, I enjoyed it. It was flawed and because of those flaws–such as lacking emotional impact most of the time or not dealing effectively with the issues that it sets up–I realized at some point that it was just yet another war movie. Good, not great.

But does it ever fit the modus operandi perfectly! For reference, this is basically the scene:

Source: Movie Clips

For those who can’t watch the video for some reason, this is the gist of it. As the movie starts we see the military moving in. Then we witness Bradley Cooper–playing the titular sniper, Chris Kyle–perched with his spotter. They see somebody making a call but don’t know how to react, then he watches as a kid and his mother exit the building below. The mother hands the kid an explosive and Kyle reports it. When the kid starts running towards the troops Kyle has to make a choice: kill the kid or let him go?

Technically American Sniper opens with the beginning of this event and then breaks away from the action and dilly-dallies with character development for roughly twenty minutes. I’m still including it because Eastwood eventually returns to it to finish it off. Even still, the twenty minutes explores Kyle’s character decently enough that it’s not horrible. But I’m improving the movie as I see fit and I don’t think it was done excellently enough to warrant involving it so it can be removed.

When we reconvene with Kyle we witness the tragedy of his decision to shoot the child. It’s a perfect shot and we see the bereaved mother pick up the explosive and try to finish the job. She gets shot too. Kyle’s spotter is celebratory and, frankly, needlessly angry and a little bit repulsive considering a child was just killed. He says that it’s “gnarly” as he congratulates Kyle. Kyle, to his credit here, replies with a stern “Get the fuck off me” as he–and the viewer–keeps getting a glimpse of the now dead kid through his rifle scope.

So what if we confined the experience to just that 5-10 minute interval? What if the flick just ended after we observed the death of a mother and her child by the hands of the American military? In my humble opinion, the flick would go from being a respectable 7/10 to at least a 9.

Depending on who you ask, American Sniper is either a compelling character study of an admittedly interesting man–whether you agree with him or not–or jingoist propaganda. I’ve always figured that it could be both because it’s from his point of view, but the jingoism does become a little unbearable at times. I’ve seen worse, but it’s there.

In the Tyler Cut (that’s right) version of American Sniper the jingoism is still present because of the hostility that Kyle’s spotter displays. That whole situation is a catastrophe because if the kid was able to do as intended soldiers would have died; but since he wasn’t, a kid who didn’t know any better had to die.

But while the jingoism rears its ugly head slightly, the more pressing matter is how the flick essentially becomes a brief but extraordinarily compelling suspense movie that accurately depicts the entangled mess of war and the ludicrous choices that have to be made during war. In less than fifteen minutes it explores a moral dilemma that most of us will never have to even consider and it does it with the appropriate amount of tension.

american sniper

Our understanding of Kyle’s character is deepened as the film progresses but was it worth it? No. While I fully conceded above that his life story–as portrayed here, but to be frank the accuracy has been disputed–was fascinating, it can never be as alluring as the predicament in that scene. Kyle is calm but Cooper still wore some concern on his face. You could tell that he hoped that the child was innocent, but the unfortunate reality was that he wasn’t. The scene–and Kyle as a character–was punctuated in the end by the short, angry retort that he directed toward his partner.

So we got to look into the window of a scenario where the tough choice was an inevitability. This brilliantly crafted, bite-sized moment demonstrated the horrors of war while also humanizing the guy who killed the young boy. On top of that it radiated nervous energy all over the place. Even upon a re-watch in order to do this article I was engulfed by the seriousness of it. On top of that, while some would still get annoyed by the guy with Kyle, the jingoism would almost entirely be eliminated from the final product, therefore also destroying one of the central criticisms of the flick.

When the clutter is stripped from it, American Sniper becomes more powerful. The movie’s messaging goes from being a questionable and controversial look at Chris Kyle to being about a man placed in an unfortunate position in the most awful situation on Earth: war. It doesn’t get a chance to let the viewer down with tedium, nor does it throw its good will into the garbage. The short film/Tyler Cut version of American Sniper is a legitimately amazing movie. The best part is, the marketing crew knew this when they based such a lot percentage of the trailer around it.

So what do you think? Do you know any movies where the premise applies? Is this a type of article you would like to see more of in the future? Let me know in the comments below because I’m eager to know what you all think. I’m going to end this now, but on my way out I just want to mention Eye in the Sky, a 2015 flick that encapsulates everything I’m saying here–except regarding a drone strike–and manages to do it for the entire duration of a feature length film. Seriously, check it out if you haven’t.

He concurs.

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