Friday, 3 May 2019

Movie Review: Sniper (1993)


A covert military action film, Sniper offers basic macho entertainment in a slick enough package.

Based in Panama, veteran Sergeant Beckett (Tom Berenger) of the U.S. Marines is a sniper specializing in covert missions. After a successful assassination, the extraction is botched and Beckett's spotter is killed. The next mission teams Beckett with the inexperienced Miller (Billy Zane), a civilian trained as a sniper, to terminate the rogue General Alavarez, who is planning a coup.

Beckett and Miller traverse the jungle towards Alavarez's hacienda. Along the way they tangle with the ruthless El Cirujano, an ex-CIA agent and expert in torture. When Miller botches a shot, Beckett is more convinced he cannot trust his partner in combat situations. The mission is compromised before Beckett and Miller even arrive at their target destination, but despite the danger Beckett is determined to seize the opportunity to eliminate the General and an elusive Colombian drug lord funding the rebels.

A sweaty expedition through the jungle punctuated by moments of tense and well-executed action, Sniper is better than it needs to be. The plot is a crumpled sketch, the dialogue is crude and the acting limited to alpha males hissing at each other, but director Luis Llosa works with what he has and delivers decent entertainment.

The thoughtful pacing is a plus. Llosa avoids the temptation to go into the jungle with all guns blazing, and the foundational premise of patient snipers who kill quietly forces the film into calm patches and build-up sequences. The moments of reflection between Beckett and Miller contain nuggets of humanity, never quite enough to elevate the film much above routine but also sufficient to define the characters beyond the blockhead level.

Despite cruising through the entire film with a singular pissed-off expression, Tom Berenger capitalizes on his Platoon jungle master persona and infuses Sniper with credibility. Billy Zane is either miscast or perfectly cast, depending on whether his character Miller is a fraud soldier out of his element in a combat zone or an efficient killing machine (the film offers both, without much explanation). The only other notable cast member is J.T. Walsh in a small role.

The action scenes are ultimately where it's at, and Llosa constructs taut set-pieces as snipers play cat and mouse games with each other and use the hostile elements to their advantage. Bullets are often captured and traced by the cameras mid-flight, and while Sniper doesn't hit every target, most of the shots are close enough.






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