Shooter flawed but still entertaining
By Lady Liberty
** 1/2 out of ****
I have an entire bookshelf in my home that's devoted to what I call "freedom fiction." It's patriotic in the classic sense of the word, and while sometimes it's anti-government, it's always pro-American and always favors liberty. Sadly, I don't have as many books as I'd like to have on the shelf, but one of my favorites that does occupy space there is a novel by Stephen Hunter entitled Point of Impact. I was both delighted and a little nervous when I heard it had been adapted into a movie called Shooter, but there was no way that I was going to miss seeing it when it opened.
The shooter of the title is a well trained and extraordinarily gifted military sniper by the name of Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg). Swagger and his spotter Donnie Fenn (Lane Garrison) are doing their jobs in Ethiopia when suddenly things deviate from plan. In the subsequent scramble to get away from a region they're not supposed to enter, the rest of the troops leave Swagger and Fenn behind to escape — or not — as best they can. Swagger makes it, but Fenn unfortunately doesn't survive.
Feeling betrayed and grieving his partner and best friend, Swagger leaves the military and holes up in his mountain retreat. With only his dog for companionship, he's still trying to heal his psychological wounds some three years later when company suddenly arrives. His unexpected guests include Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) who has tracked Swagger down for a very specific reason. Swagger isn't inclined to listen, but the Colonel gets his attention when he begins to tell him about a plot to assassinate the president.
Swagger, who is one of the best snipers the world has ever known, has been tapped to help the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies figure out how the assassin will do the job. Reluctantly, Swagger agrees to do the job. After careful research and reconnaissance, he offers the Colonel and his men his expert assessment. As Swagger prepares to go back to his isolated cabin, the Colonel asks Swagger to stay just a little while longer so that he can help the authorities spot the sniper before he can fire his weapon.
Once again, Swagger is talked into doing a job for his country. But this time, just as the situation becomes critical, he's betrayed. In the time it takes for a high powered rifle bullet to reach its target from a mile away, Swagger finds himself transformed from a patriot to the most wanted man in America. Wounded and running for his life, he has nowhere to turn until he takes a chance and contacts his old friend Fenn's widow.
Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara) has lived the last few years quietly mourning her husband and getting on with her life. Needless to say, her serenity is more than a little disturbed with the contact from Swagger! As she's trying to sort things out in her own mind, an FBI agent in Philadelphia is doing the same. Rookie Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) has seen all of the reports from all of the agencies, and it certainly looks like Swagger is a guilty man. But something's not quite right as far as he's concerned, and he enlists the help of fellow agent Alourdes Galindo (Rhona Mita) to see if he can't figure out what's bothering him about the case.
Agent Memphis is determined to find out what really happened no matter the penalties to his own career, and Swagger is just as determined to avoid capture and survive long enough to do the same thing. But with everyone from local police departments to the FBI, and from the Secret Service to who knows who else after him, there's some very real doubt that Swagger will do much of anything but die in disgrace with the world believing he's guilty as charged.
Mark Wahlberg is making a real name for himself as an actor these days. His turn in The Departed earned him a supporting Oscar™ nomination; in Shooter, he proves he's more than capable of being an entirely believable action hero. His physical presence has always been impressive, and Shooter allows him to really show off that aspect of himself as well. Meanwhile, Michael Peña does a fine job as a wide-eyed rookie who bites off more than he can chew.
Danny Glover and Elias Koteas (as the all too appropriately named Jack Payne) are also good as are Alan C. peterson and Ned Beatty in smaller roles. Kate Mara, meanwhile, is an extraordinarily beautiful girl who has done good work in past films (including a role in the all-around impressive Brokeback Mountain). But in Shooter, I found her a real distraction with a thick Kentucky accent that I thought was disconcertingly over the top.
Antoine Fuqua's direction was largely quite good with some decent edits and some inspired camera angles. The adapted script, written by Jonathan Lemkin, was also just fine. In a movie like this, though, it's almost to be expected that the nuts-and-bolts, and even much of the acting, is going to be overshadowed by some really nice stuntwork and some very impressive explosions. While I won't get into all of that in any fine detail, I will tell you that the stuntwork is really nice, and the explosions are, well, very impressive more often than not. I'll offer some added kudos to those responsible for the action involving firearms.
I read one review that said that Shooter was good for awhile, but degenerated when its protagonists went shopping in a "hardware store" where they found what they needed to make some explosive devices. Apparently, that reviewer isn't overly familiar with either Special Forces training or with warehouse stores like the one the shopping actually took place in. While I'm far from an expert on these things myself, I do know just enough to tell you that that isn't among Shooter's faults (which frankly, in this genre, aren't that many to begin with).
I actually liked Shooter myself, and found it a very entertaining film literally from start to finish. It certainly had a few moments that strained belief, but I don't think went too far, particularly not in a movie. And it had plenty of plot and action to make up for any other minor shortcomings. If you're an action fan, I'm guessing you'll like Shooter at least as much as I did. If you loved the book (me, too), you'll need to make some allowances for the adaptation and the update. But if you can do that much, you'll also have a good time at the movies.
POLITICAL NOTES: There are several overt political commentaries here, but the most important may be the implication that many in Washington are more concerned with money and power than with anything else. That some will quite literally stop at nothing to attain and retain those things is also no real surprise. It's entirely different to talk about that sort of thing, though, and even to acknowledge that it's true, than it is to watch some pretty horrific things unfold on a gigantic screen in front of you. Shooter doesn't tell a true story, but it does convey a few truths, and they're not particularly pleasant to contemplate. Gosh, do you suppose we should maybe do something about that? Of course, it only adds insult to injury when the hero of the film is loosely portrayed as some kind of a "gun nut" rather than the one man on screen who truly is an American patriot (Mark Wahlberg's own depressingly naive views on gun control notwithstanding).
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Shooter is rated R for "strong, graphic violence and some language." Although there's shooting aplenty and some language now and again that some may find objectionable, I actually think this movie isn't anywhere near as unsuitable for children as the R rating might lead you to believe. Given the state of video games today as well as the typical PG-13 film, I don't see any problem with taking your 12 year-old son to the theatre with you (I suspect that boys will find this movie a whole lot more enjoyable than will girls). In fact, there are some pretty good reasons you might want your teens to see this film with you.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.