American Sniper – Scene tension

I watched American Sniper last night, and was impressed with some things I saw.

Spoiler alert blah blah blah.

There is a scene where Chris is providing overwatch on an area where there is a humvee parked and some soldiers talking to people. We see him on the roof, then there’s a camera shot of a little boy (maybe 5-6 yrs) sitting against a door and throwing rocks. He’s important, we’re coming back to him in a moment, but the camera shot introduces the character. It’s just a kid throwing rocks, right?  A taxi rushes down the road and makes a left into an alley a block from the humvee. Chris knows something is up and puts his crosshairs on the corner of the alley, since it is perpendicular from his field of fire and he can only see the end of the alley. A few seconds later, the taxi driver (though it could be passenger) arrives at the corner with an RPG, and raises it to his shoulder.  The crosshairs are on the left side of his back, and it is a foregone conclusion that taxi driver is about to be shot and die.

Chris squeezes the trigger and a shot rings out, and we see blood on the taxi driver’s back as he collapses to his side, dropping the RPG next to him. It was a routine sniper kill, if anything like that could ever be considered pedestrian. It’s routine to us, we’ve seen a lot of people die from sniper shots and this is no first kill. But then we see the point of the scene.

The rock throwing child walks over to the body and the RPG.  We know he probably doesn’t know the taxi driver, because the guy arrived in a taxi and chances are this isn’t his neighborhood. Is the kid curious about the dead body? No. He looks at the RPG.

Everyone in the theater is now thinking three words. Don’t do it. It’s an interesting dichotomy–we’ve all gone from a calloused “just shoot the rebel haji” to observing something forbidden: Children as propagators of war.  Moreover, there’s the tension of whether Chris is going to take the shot if the kid picks up the RPG, and we see reaction shots. This is clearly disturbing Chris.  Killing Hajis with AK47s is worthy because he is “Saving our guys” and “fighting to protect the best nation on earth.” Killing children… not so much.

The child struggles with the RPG. It weighs somewhere between 8-10 pounds (2.5 kg) and he tries to heft it to his shoulder. He knows how it’s supposed to be fired, and he gets it to his shoulder and tries to aim it at the humvee.

Rock throwing kid struggles some more with aiming, and we have a few seconds of indecision. Shoot child or no? Reaction shot showing the finger tensing up on the black trigger, and right before he squeezes tight, we see through the scope the child drop the RPG and run away.  Chris collapses with relief.

The tension of the scene was a combination of horror. We contemplate the extinguishing of an innocent (one scarred by war and taught an unrelenting hatred of an enemy) and we flinch. It is horrible.  We know the sniper can do it because we’ve seen him do it (his first kill was a young boy with a grenade/mortar round), but we would really rather he did not do it.

I think I need to read the book.

Go ahead, comment. It won’t kill you.  And, um, it’s not because I’m desperate. Because I’m not. I’m NOT! Just comment. If you comment, I’ll be your best friend!  C’mon. I’ll give you a cookie! Yeah, I love the “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” books, too.