There's no doubt that Shooter, the new film from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Replacement Killers) is a bit schizophrenic and all over the place. On the one hand, it obviously wants to be a throwback to the 70's thrillers like The Parallax View and Three Days Of The Condor, where paranoia reigns supreme and the government really IS out to get you. However, it undoubtedly is - in execution - more of a revisiting of the 80's action movies where shit blew up real good and the guy with the biggest gun ruled all. I must be honest and say that while these two styles don't always mesh, I could give a damn; I found Shooter to be a hell of a ride.
We start off with two Marines, a sniper and his spotter, perched on a cliff in Ethiopia watchdogging a military peacekeeping mission. Spotter Donny (Lane Garrison) is showing sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) pictures of his girl back home; no points for figuring out what happens next. The shit hits the fan, gunfire is exchanged, Bob Lee and his buddy are left behind to escape on their own, and said buddy predictably gets his guts blown out.
Three years later, Bob Lee has apparently made it back to the world, quit the service in disgust and lives alone with his dog in the mountains. But just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in; Colonel Issac Johnson (Danny Glover) has found Swagger, and has a mission that only he can help with. Apparently there is to be an attempt on the President's life by a sniper one hell of a long way off. Swagger's unmatched skills with a rifle can help them to stop the assassination and catch the bastard responsible. Against his better judgment, Swagger's personal sense of honor and underlying love of country leave him duty-bound to do what he can (as well as the thrill of doing what he is so precisely talented at).
He scouts the area and gives them all the recon they'd need to prevent it; on the day in question, these shadowy government types show their thanks by shooting him twice and framing him for the crime. Wounded and on the run, Swagger seeks aid from his late partner's widow, Sarah (Kate Mara). Meanwhile, rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) is realizing that the pieces of the puzzle don't fit and that Swagger may, in fact, be innocent; Memphis finds himself involved more deeply than he ever imagined before long, as Swagger prepares to mete out the ultimate justice to those who have wronged him.
Shooter is. . .a real bitch to review, actually. At times it's remarkably intelligent and complex, other times it boggles the mind with ludicrous developments and huge lapses in logic. Ultimately none of that matters, in that it's either entertaining or it's not. And for me, it certainly is. Unapologetically violent and brutal like the Stallone/Schwarzenegger flicks of old, it marks its course and just goes, mindless of the destruction (or plot holes) it leaves in its wake.
Based on the first of Stephen Hunter's Bob "The Nailer" series of books, it is mostly faithful to the source material (updating Bob Lee from a Vietnam vet, for example) while streamlining and simplifying plot threads that would have made this a three-hour plus flick. Side note: something that bugs the shit outta me is all the snarky, shitty comments I've heard regarding his name - Bob Lee Swagger - and how that in and of itself all but ruins the movie for some people. Must we take EVERYTHING seriously all the time here? Hunter is a Pulitzer Prize winner, for Christ's sake. So if he named his character that, it must be for a reason. . .it's the Marlboro Man's actual name, Clint Eastwood was already taken, who gives a shit? It's a manly, iconic name in my opinion, and you know exactly what you're getting into with a protagonist who has such a name. Anyway -
Fuqua does a fine job shooting all of this, by the way, and must be commended for not falling prey to the recent MTV-style editing tricks or close-up shots that obscure the action rather than illustrate it. These sequences are MUCH more old-school and are more Walter Hill than Michael Bay, and to me, that's about as good a thing as you'll get in today's action cinema. His cinematographer Peter Menzies proves to be a fine choice as a collaborator; the picture is as good -looking as all of Fuqua's previous work yet has an intangible retro feel to it, which fits the material perfectly. Screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin has done a fine job adapting Hunter's novel, keeping most of the important plot beats (and even some of the crowd-pleasing, no-nonsense lines of dialogue), and much of the technical details regarding what it takes to make some of these impossible shots - like humidity factors and on-the-spot trigonometry calculations - without it becoming overwhelming or worse, boring.
The acting starts with Wahlberg, of course - this guy has just been getting better and better for me ever since I saw Boogie Nights and realized, "Holy fuck, Marky Mark can actually act!" His stoic, Bronson/Marvin style adds quite a bit to the movie, as well as the fact that he's so effortlessly in control of the situation, better prepared and smarter than his opposition. Pena is really likeable and funny as the green agent thrust into a situation WAY beyond his abilities, Mara is just as attractive and spunky as the character calls for, and veteran Elias Koteas is nicely evil and squirm-inducing as Glover's muscle. Speaking of, Glover is great as a quiet, soft-spoken (with a strange lisp, almost as if he's wearing a mouthpiece or braces throughout) pseudo-military slimeball; Ned Beatty even graces us with his presence near the end as a wholly corrupt Senator.
This last plot piece is something Shooter wears on its sleeve with no regrets. Throughout the movie there are myriad, none-too-subtle jabs at our current government and administration. The subjects range from Sunni/Shiite (and Democrat/Republican) conflicts to WMDs to the 9/11 report and finally, the big bad wolf that is oil comsumption. It's all pretty blatant in its distaste for the politicians running this country now, and can almost be seen as a liberal fantasy come to life; the usual one-man-army that Reagan and co. used to appropriate as their own (see Rambo and Dirty Harry) is now coming, and he's pissed. And in the ultimate case of irony, he is using the same tactics they champion against them, with just a gun and a few well-placed head shots. It's pretty interesting, and as a confirmed liberal myself, I found it endlessly amusing and entertaining (even if there are those that would call both the film and myself anti-American).
Paramount's DVD is, as usual, technically sound - it looks and sounds superb, which you really need in a flick with this many gunshots and explosions. The special features aren't as extensive as they could be, but fairly decent: a 20 minute featurette that might have been a little less EPK and a lot more of the segments where they discuss Wahlberg's sniper training (including the fact that on his second day of shooting, he could already hit a target 1100 yards away) and the realities of long-range shots. There's also a commentary by Fuqua which, while decent and knowledgeable about a great many aspects of the production, could perhaps have been livened up a little by Wahlberg's or Pena's participation. There's also 7 deleted scenes, another short piece on the location of the central assassination attempt, and a couple trailers.
Shooter is a flick that, not unlike the underrated Punisher from a couple years ago, reminds us of a time when action movies were bloody, harsh exercises in weaponry and firepower. And considering the fact that there are two more books in the series, I for one hope that we'll see the return of Bob Lee Swagger. It's not perfect, but those aching for a revenge thriller that hearkens back to days past will not be disappointed.