'American Sniper's' Fake Baby Mocked by Critics, Moviegoers
Clint Eastwood's war biopic grossed a shocking $105 million over the weekend, earned six Oscar noms last week — and is drawing criticism for its use of a very unrealistic-looking baby.
American Sniper opened to a record $105.3 million over the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in North America. In addition to that achievement — as well as its six Oscar nominations, including a best picture mention — critics and moviegoers also are talking about something else when discussing the Clint Eastwood-directed war biopic: that fake baby.
The most glaringly obvious scene in which a fake baby is used features Bradley Cooper and his onscreen wife, Sienna Miller. The two pass the partially mechanized baby back and forth as they talk about Cooper leaving for another tour (watch the clip below). The actors do their best to compensate for their prop kid, but people have taken notice (in at least one media screening, the audience laughed out loud at how obviously fake the prop is).
Another earlier scene, in which the couple is seen welcoming their first child, a son, shows the baby only for an instant, and the face is obscured (Watch at the 1:11 minute mark.)
However, it's worth noting that real babies appear to be used in a nursery scene earlier in the movie, just after the couple's daughter was born.
But shooting in California poses some challenges when employing a real baby given the state's strict laws (part of the movie was shot in Los Angeles). Infants must be at least 15 days old, and babies from that age up to six months can be employed for only one period of two consecutive hours in any given day. Moreover, that time frame has to be between 9:30-11:30 a.m. or from 2:30-4:30 p.m., and one studio teacher along with one nurse must be on set during filming.
According to American Sniper screenwriter/executive producer Jason Hall, there's actually a good explanation as to why fake babies were used on the film. In response to journalist Mark Harris' tweet "That plastic baby in American Sniper is going to be rationalized by Eastwood auteur cultists until the end of days," Hall replied: "hate to ruin the fun but real baby #1 showed up with a fever. Real baby #2 was no show. (Clint voice) Gimme the doll, kid."
A rep on the film declined comment when reached by The Hollywood Reporter.
@MarkHarrisNYC hate to ruin the fun but real baby #1 showed up with a fever. Real baby #2 was no show. (Clint voice) Gimme the doll, kid.— jason hall (@jasonhall8675) December 30, 2014
Still, the use of the infant prop is drawing criticism online by media and moviegoers alike. In December, Drew McWeeny of HitFix noticed the fake babies during a screening of the movie at AFI Fest, later writing: "It's so obvious, and neither one of them looks like they are comfortable holding it."
He goes on to surmise that maybe Eastwood's notoriously fast directing style had something to do with the apparent oversight: "I wonder if this is just a case of him signing off on Cooper and Miller and not really worrying about whether or not his creepy robot baby is flagrantly fake or not."
In her Sunday Times review, critic Camilla Long writes that she has "never seen so many terrible fake babies in one film."
Adds Las Vegas Informer's Victoria Alexander: "American Sniper would be a peerless film if director Clint Eastwood kept to [Navy SEAL Chris] Kyle’s fascinating military career in Iraq and left out the annoying, under-written personal story – and the glaring fake babies. How about that fake breastfeeding scene?"
And Film School Rejects' Jack Giroux writes: "Eastwood’s American Sniper rarely digs under the surface of Kyle’s story. It’s all technically competent — with the exception of a laughably fake baby — but lifeless. Kyle’s life could have made for a challenging, brutal and inspiring story, but not in Eastwood’s hands." (The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Clint Eastwood's production company, Malpaso Productions, for comment.)
Critics and journalists weren't the only ones to notice, with many moviegoers taking to Twitter to voice their own observations.
Will someone who put "American Sniper" on a Top 10 list please explain the use of plastic dolls instead of human babies. A Brechtian thing?— Shawn Levy (@shawnlevy) December 20, 2014
I'm relieved to see other people are just as creeped out by the fake baby in American Sniper as I am. Why, Clint, why?— Christiane Rodes (@christianerodes) January 19, 2015
Jake Gyllenhaal needs to dress up as his Nightcrawler character and show up to the Oscars with the fake baby from American Sniper.— Tony Zhou (@tonyszhou) January 15, 2015
The fake baby in American Sniper still looks more realistic than old man Armie Hammer in J. Edgar. pic.twitter.com/QvpLZQJpCL— Adam Batty (@adamhopelies) January 19, 2015
Halloween '15 idea: the obviously fake baby in American Sniper. pic.twitter.com/mWIhKeDBRF— Ryan (@rjhugs) January 19, 2015
1. that Jezebel piece is obviously joking 2. the baby in American Sniper may have been the most distractingly fake baby in movie history— Matt (@mttbry) January 19, 2015
The only nomination I'd give American Sniper is for best fake baby.— Andrew Batista (@Andrew_Batista) January 15, 2015
I don't get all the American Sniper love. But I do understand Bradley Cooper's nom.He had to hold that fake baby and not laugh.That's skill!— Ruth (@BabyRuthCT) January 15, 2015
If that fake baby from American Sniper doesn't get a Best Supporting Fake Baby nom, I will be outraged.— CutPrintFilm (@cutprintfilm) January 15, 2015
American Sniper gives Heimat: Home From Home a good run for its money in the worst fake baby of the year awards race.— Amber Wilkinson (@NinjaWorrier) January 14, 2015
The fake baby in American Sniper cannot be unseen.— John Dunne (@johndunne) January 13, 2015
Oh no. Don't tell me Eastwood used a fake baby in a single AMERICAN SNIPER scene. Whatever will we do? Clearly it ruins everything ever.— Matt Parkinson (@martertweet) January 13, 2015
They had the fakest baby ever in American Sniper. Like ridiculously fake. Can't believe they used a doll lmao— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) January 13, 2015
My interest in American Sniper is tied directly to this fake baby, who is apparently the star. pic.twitter.com/pADpDYWW0K— Lindsey (@juneasthemoon) January 13, 2015
Brian Porreca contributed to this report.