Saturday 1 September 2018

Movie Review: Shooter (2007)

A high-energy action thriller, Shooter is full of ridiculous plot holes but nevertheless delivers slick entertainment.

On an unsanctioned mission in Ethiopia, expert sniper Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) provides cover for a covert US forces mission. The assignment ends in disarray and Swagger's spotter Donnie is killed. Disillusioned, Swagger leaves the military and goes into seclusion in rural Wyoming. Three years later, Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) manages to recruit Swagger for a special assignment to counter a threat to assassinate the President.

But Swagger was really lured in to be the patsy, and on the day of the would-be assassination in Philadelphia he is framed, shot, and barely escapes with his life. A nationwide manhunt is launched. Rookie FBI Special Agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) is one of the few to suspect Swagger was framed. Meanwhile, Swagger seeks refuge with Donnie's widow Sarah (Kate Mara), and starts to uncover a conspiracy deep within the government centred on Senator Meachum (Ned Beatty).

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Shooter delivers enough quality to allow mindless enjoyment of an almost laughable story. A stellar cast, a flashy visual style, and a stoic, indestructible and patriotic hero brought to life by Mark Wahlberg all help. The action scenes are sustained and generally coherent, and the bad guys lining up against Swagger are worthy: treacherous, powerful and deeply entrenched in modern-day pragmatic geopolitical meddling. The sniper jargon also sounds legitimate to the untrained ear.

Which is all good, because on the negative side Swagger had to be a particular kind of momentarily stupid not to notice the jaws of a Kennedyesque assassination conspiracy plot snapping tight around his ankles. And once he goes on the run, the film becomes a blur of overlapping groan-inducing developments, characters traveling around the country with dizzying speed and no respect for a national manhunt. When a late climax arrives and Swagger has to explain his actions to a room full of men-in-suits, the lack of any due process or discipline around the proceedings is chuckle worthy.

But of course Swagger gets the upper hand in every skirmish (and the skirmishes arrive at the rate of one every few minutes), and his cool-under-pressure, one-step-ahead-of-the-bad-guys persona is comfortingly familiar. Most of the dialogue is basic, macho-infused actionspeak, and rarely gets in the way.

Fuqua's expertise is constructing few-against-many and mostly silent action set-pieces, and Shooter is at its best when Swagger infiltrates his enemies' hideouts and strongholds and dishes out the special brand of revenge reserved for action heroes seeking personal justice. American evildoers can plot the destruction of entire third world villages and suffer no consequences, but beware landing on the wrong side of one brooding sharpshooter.

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