Film Reviews


By • Mar 23rd, 2007 •

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Some old dude steals the movie by saying, “I still have the shovel.”

I like smart movies where I learn stuff I’ll never use – tradecraft, its called – and SHOOTER gives us enough to impress without being a tutorial. Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) was a Marine scout sniper who was very, very good at hitting long-range targets. (I learned there are a lot of instant math calculations, wind speed estimates, the spinning of the planet, and weather forecasts involved in making such shots.)

In a mission in Ethiopia, when his partner is killed and he is left to extract himself without U.S. support, Swagger quits and retreats to an isolated cabin in Montana. He’s seen COMMANDO and has Colonel Matrix’s mountain hide-away. It’s been three years since his Ethiopian mission and he doesn’t have a girlfriend, job, or friends, but he does have a military pension and a faithful dog-companion.

Swagger is visited by retired Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) with an offer to do an important patriotic mission – according to reliable secret sources, the President of the U.S. is going to be assassinated. Johnson only wants Swagger to check out the three cities where the President will be making public appearances and access the locations. Which site does Swagger think is the best target for the hit? Easy enough, and does not involve anything more dangerous than a few days of surveillance and filing a report.

As you all know from viewing the trailer (no spoiler here), Swagger is set up, shot twice, and escapes. Imagine if Lee Harvey Oswald got away. That’s the premise of SHOOTER.

If you think most of what happens next is highly improbable – if you really believe in The Magic Bullet and A Lone Gunman (let’s not forget the never found John Doe #2) – then perhaps everything that follows is an absurd moviemaking fantasy. Swagger escapes, uses his special ops training to get away, and decides to target and kill the people who set him up.

Three weeks out of the FBI academy, Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) is standing around on detail assignment when he is accosted by a fleeing Swagger. He’s assaulted and handcuffed by Swagger. His FBI car and gun are taken. The FBI is embarrassed and Memphis’ career is in jeopardy. He’s a media fool. Ridiculed by co-workers, Memphis begins his own sly investigation. Certain facts do not add up.

What would you have done if Sirhan Bishara Sirhan turned up one night in your living room and said he was being framed? Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara) does have a remote connection to Swagger – a rather weak one in my opinion. Regardless of this, Sarah helps Swagger while wearing bosom-heaving loungewear. She’s also too tough to be a grade school teacher.

Through ingenious skill – with the entire nation looking for him – Swagger gets busy moving effortlessly around the country. Cleverly, he finds, sets up, and then enlists the help of Memphis!

I screamed out loud several times and clapped once – in a terrific scene Swagger and Memphis go to meet a weird old man who is an expert on long-range target assassinations. Wait until you hear Levon Helm steal the movie with this line: “I still have the shovel.”

Based on Stephen Hunter’s novel “Point of Impact” (there’re two more Swagger books for Wahlberg’s first franchise) screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin has given SHOOTER a strong political scaffolding. What was the nefarious agenda behind the assassination? Why was Swagger set up, and what does foreign oil have to do with it? Director Antoine Fuqua and Lemkin make very clear, unambiguous statements about the way our country is run and a senator’s glee at the way the public is spoon-fed fairy tales of WMDs and our so-called welcomed involvement in other country’s internal affairs.

Walhberg is young enough for an actioner franchise and SHOOTER is smart and tough. His Swagger is another lone patriot up against an unfair system. Forced to retreat and sulk in private, he likes being self-reliant. American men must secretly dream of being independent warriors needing nothing but a dog and a rifle. Walhberg has defied the Calvin Klein underwear curse by dedicating himself to actually acting.

Fuqua gives us nasty killings, brutality, and every victim gets a shot to the head. The big budget is right up there and, since my husband was on a speaking engagement for the screening, I am looking forward to another viewing of SHOOTER.

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