Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Ned Beatty, Rhona Mitra, Rade Serbedzija, Lane Garrison, Levon Helm
MPAA Rating: (for strong graphic violence and some language)
Running Time: 2:04
Release Date: 3/23/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
Shooter tries really hard not to be a brainless action movie, and therein lies the problem. The script by Jonathan Lemkin, based on the novel Point of Impact by Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Stephen Hunter, is essentially an immature, angry polemic against military brass, the government, and politicians that is so simplistic, the movie ends up being more brain-dead for it. The anger, I can understand; the immaturity, not so much. The director is Antoine Fuqua, who has done a politically-minded actioner before with Tears of the Sun, but that film had some weight to its issue-making. Here the politics are deadweight, dragging the cat-and-mouse dynamics of the plot down into a web of deceit and conspiratorial meanderings about government agencies with no names and bad intentions turning worse. The action is good, and in its bloody but intelligently choreographed way, it displays Fuqua's skill at carrying out effective action sequences. Still, while the movie's cynicism may be apropos in our current political climate, that's no excuse for the kind of slapdash critique on display here.
In Ethiopia, a long helicopter shot traverses the landscape, showing us lush jungles, wide rivers, a very CGI town burning, and finally two men overlooking it all. One is Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), an expert sniper, and the other is his obviously soon-to-be-deceased spotter Donnie (Lane Garrison). A convoy is making its way up a distant road, and the duo's job is to keep any enemy forces off of it, which they do well until the heat is turned up and a helicopter shows up. At headquarters outside the country, the secret military mission is called off, leaving the two without any support. As expected, Donnie is killed, and Swagger somehow survives. Thirty-six months later, Swagger lives a hermit's life in a cabin deep in the woods with his dog. After lots of hints that he's disillusioned, Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover, with a distractingly accentuated lisp) arrives to tell him of a plot to assassinate the President. Being one of the few men who can make a shot at a mile's distance, Johnson tells him, Swagger can help prevent the attempt. After all his hard work, though, the entire affair was a setup to make Swagger take the fall for the assassination of another dignitary.
There's a well-shot but too short car chase that starts Swagger's run from the law, and as everyone knows his face, he goes to the only person he can think of: Donnie's widow Sarah (Kate Mara). The relationship between the two awkwardly moves toward romance but even more awkwardly stops short. There's also a disgraced FBI agent named Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), whom Swagger disarmed on his initial run. Memphis begins to look into Swagger's innocence with the help of a higher up played by Rhona Mitra, who tells Memphis he doesn't need to know information one moment only to tell him all the information the next. That's nothing, though, compared to Johnson, who meets up with a nefarious Senator played by Ned Beatty and a mysterious Russian in a wheelchair (Rade Serbedzija) who more and more starts to recall Dr. Strangelove. There's a giant conspiracy going on here involving Swagger's mission in Ethiopia, and these government lackeys will stop at nothing to cover it up. You know the deal. So does a conspiracy nut (Levon Helm), who tells Swagger and Memphis about the efforts to hide the killers on the grassy knoll ("I still have the shovel.")
There's a lot of laughable hush-hush stuff here and some minimal action (Swagger roughs up a couple of cops after he naively stands out the sidewalk in broad daylight), but there is a raid on the mysterious Russian's isolated home (Does anyone live in populated areas in this movie?) that works quite well. Setting up traps beforehand, Swagger and Memphis take out an entire team of trained special ops with explosives, napalm, rifles, and automatic weapons they bought from the local gun shop. The movie, as you'd expect, is full of graphic head-shots, and Kate Mara holds a shotgun while she's in her underwear. Actually, Mara spends a good deal of time in her underwear as she's tortured by an out-of-place, completely crazed Elias Koteas. There's a standoff in the artic (they kindly put some clothes on Mara) with more head-shots, and then all the underhanded political maneuvers become the focus in a scene where evidence in Swagger's favor is ridiculously obvious and Johnson's reiteration of his invulnerability to the law almost becomes a comedy routine. What is comical, however, is the presentation of the politicos, sitting in their isolated cabin, smoking cigars and drinking expensive liquor, laughing about their evil deeds.
That kind of caricature is how the movie presents all of its heavy-handed political text, though, and it's such a misguidedly important part to the story, the movie suffers terminally from it. There are some dumb plot elements in Shooter (the Mitra character, a military sniper rifle Swagger somehow obtains, and a ludicrous suicide rig worth five minutes of laughter), but even they look subtle compared to its infantile anti-establishmentarianism.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.