When former Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger is asked to help prevent an assassination attempt on the President of the U.S.A. – by planning it and showing how to stop it – you just know there’s going to be problems.
Shooter is one of those movies where a single soldier – or ex-soldier – is pitted against the people he used to think were on his side. It could be because of betrayal in combat, or any number of other reasons. In this case, it about an assignment that turns out to be something entirely different – and that betrayal is only beginning.
We open in Africa, where Bob Lee Swagger [Mark Wahlberg] and his spotter, Donnie Fenn [Lane Garrison] are watching a convoy of friendlies – and have to cover them [read kill a bunch of enemies with big guns] as they head for transport home. In the course of the action, our sniper and spotter are abandoned by their unit and left to deal with unexpected air support, during which Fenn is killed.
Six months later, Swagger is at home in the mountains, with his dog and a lot of open air, when a Colonel Johnson [Danny Glover] and several others approach him about an expected attempt on the President by a sniper – intel says the shot will come from just over a mile away. Johnson wants Swagger to visit the three cities on the President’s immediate itinerary and figure out how the assassination could be carried out – and then use that knowledge to help him prevent it.
Things go horribly wrong – at least for Swagger – when the whole thing turns out to be a set-up and he is shot by an “observer” cop while Johnson and his men leave him to die. Unfortunately for them, he doesn’t. In a brief exchange with a rookie FBI agent, Nick Memphis [Michael Pena], he handcuffs the agent to a post and steals his car, protesting his innocence all the way. The rest of the film follows Swagger as he patches himself up and heads for the one place no one would expect him to go – the home of Fenn’s widow, Sarah [Kate Mara].
If you’re looking for a reasonably intelligent action flick – where the body count is high and stuff blows up real good, but it kind of makes sense, anyway – Shooter could be just what the doctor ordered. The film is fast-paced; the action is just on the right side of believable [most of the time]; the hero is smart, tough, and clearly in the right, and cast seems to be really enjoying itself.
Shooter may not be the smartest career move for Wahlberg, now that he’s done The Departed, but he does make an agreeable hero in the John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone [Rambo] mold. He never goes over the top [leaving that for the most villainous elements of the piece], preferring to play his laconic character’s anger as a smolder rather than a blaze. And, in grand Hollywood tradition, the thing that prevents him from quitting is learning that the bastards killed his dog.
There is a semi-romantic thing between Swagger and Sarah, but it doesn’t venture into the realm of love scenes – sometimes, what you don’t see can be more fun than what you do. There’s also an intriguing relationship that develops between the disgraced Memphis and an FBI computer person – in the form of Alourdes Galindo [Rhona Mitra] – that results in intelligence gathering that plays into Swagger’s actions. As a subsidiary bad guy – a truly evil character – Elias Koteas is genuinely creepy as Johnson’s number one sidekick, Jack Payne [no irony in that name…], who steals every scene he’s in…
While I suppose you could read all sorts of geopolitical ramifications, implications and even imprecations into Shooter, I suspect that kind of subtext isn’t really going to matter to the average viewer. What matters more is the fact that the movie is two hours of jet-propelled fun. You do have to watch closely, though – especially during the last act. Things play out in ways that will require your complete attention. I haven’t read the Stephen Hunter novel on which the movie is based, but now that I’ve seen the film, I believe I shall have to seek out the book…