Marky Mark’s come a long way, but he still can’t grow a proper beard. He’s always reliable as the hot-tempered quiet man, and Shooter is no exception. If you’ve seen the trailer you know the setup- if you haven’t, avoid it, because there’s a twist that you might see coming, but why not go in as a tabula rasa? It’s a solid action thriller, with plenty of headshots to please any AWP whore or Second Amendment enthusiast. And with Ned Beatty, Danny Glover, and Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) rounding out the cast, there’s good performances to back it up.
We meet Bobby Lee Swagger in an undisclosed desert country in a ghillie suit; his scout beside him, they are picking off enemies blocking the road as Marines extract from a mission. We get to see Bobby’s skill as he takes out gunner, then driver; when they think the road is clear, a huge force rolls in and they call for air support, but none comes. A chopper does roll in, but it’s the enemy. They lose comms suspiciously, and Bobby barely makes it out alive- and his scout is not so lucky.
Fast forward to 3 years later and Bobby is a disgruntled Force Recon Marine, retired- living on a mountain with his big slobbery dog, reading the 9/11 Commission Report and shooting Dinty Moore cans to stay sharp. That’s when Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) and two stubbly goons show up. Yeah, we know the government screwed you and you’re retired, but we need you for one last mission. They say there’s a hit out on the President- from a good source, and they believe it will be a sniper, and the shot a mile away. He’s one of few people capable of such a shot, so they want to know how to defend against it. Bobby Lee is wary and reluctant, but when Johnson whips out his Congressional Medal of Honor, we know he’ll give in. He says he’ll think about it.
Like a clever heist, the machinations of the assassin have always been alluring to audiences. Take The Day of the Jackal for instance; there’s an excellent example. Even the inferior remake with Bruce Willis was compelling, and a decent director can make us almost want to see the guy succeed, just because we’ve seen how clever his plan is and how much trouble he’s gone through. Here we see it from reverse; Bobby is scouting the locations they think the assassin might use, and we see angles, windage, and cover. It will take seconds for the bullet to travel those 5280 feet, so he needs a stationary target, and markers around it to see which way the wind blows.
In the infamous sniper fan fap-book Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills, the story of Carlos Hathcock, I learned the difficulty of long range shooting. Targets look like a match-head; wind is the enemy. Hatchcock had the record for longest confirmed kill shot for many years, having used a .50 caliber machine gun loaded single. This led to the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle in use today, and a Canadian sniper in Afghanistan recently broke Hathcock’s record with a 2430 yard shot. That’s nearly a mile and a half away. So it is possible, with incredible skill and the proper conditions, to kill a man with a rifle from a mile away. Shooter still operates in action movie world, but it doesn’t strain credibility too much, and we learn a lot along the way.
If you hadn’t seen the trailer, and didn’t notice Danny Glover’s sleazy looking right hand goon, aptly named Jack Payne (Elias Koteas, Some Kind of Wonderful), you might not expect the twist. It’s a setup, and as Bobby tells them to shield the President, the shot is fired, and then all hell breaks loose. Bobby Lee Oswald is the patsy, and manages to escape with a gunshot wound only due to his wits as a Force Recon sniper and being the action hero of the picture. As he staggers away, he takes down a rookie FBI agent (Michael Peña, Babel) and escapes in his car. Now he’s got to evade police, find out who set him up and why, and bring them to justice.
The twists and deceptions, as in Enemy of the State, are largely irrelevant. The pacing is what matters, and Antoine Fuqua, who also directed Training Day and King Arthur, manages to let us turn our brains off and enjoy the twisty road this runaway truck of a story hurtles down. Peña’s Nick Memphis is about to lose his job for letting the assassin get away, but he clamps onto the case like a bulldog, because he heard Bobby Lee say he didn’t do it. Eventually they are teamed together, along with Bobby’s scout’s widow, who tended to his wounds, against the shadowy government agents who want them dead. It gets a little silly when the bad guys want to make Nick look like a suicide- they have a complicated rig to make him point a gun at his own head. How’s this? Knock him out, and put the gun in his hand, and pull the trigger. But hey, cool “we made you shoot yourself!” rig.
The film takes what at first seem to be brave stances, pitting Marky against rogue elements of our government who performed genocide for oil, but this ain’t Syriana. It’s all about the action, and when that’s what it gives us, the getting is good. As Bobby traces the web of deceit, he faces a squad of 24 special ops troopers in a remote farmhouse, and another helicopter, and it seems a hell of a lot more believable than let’s say, 24: Redemption did. Fuqua has developed solid action chops, but doesn’t care so much about solid stories, and likes depending on twists. As always, there is a Mexican standoff as they trade MacGuffins at the end, and Bobby has to face 3 other snipers; the scene is tense and exciting, and when he faces his nemeses, it ends different than I expected. Of course the sleazeball gets his, but in politics, the bad guys often win.
Sadly Rhona Mitra is completely wasted as a fellow agent on Nick’s side; sexy Kate Mara (Brokeback Mountain) picks up the slack as the scout’s widow, plucky and resourceful, and also looking hot in a bra and jeans. Best scenes are when they look up an aging sniper fanboy to figure out some of the technical aspects of the setup, and the old coot- played by Levon Helm from The Band- lays some conspiracy facts on them about where the bodies are buried. “I still got the shovel!” Rade Serbedzija (Boris the Bullet Dodger from Snatch) has a great small part as a spooky guy in a wheelchair with a rather colorful past.
The movie drags on after this, giving us an unnecessary scene where Bobby is exonerated and yet powerless to put the blame where it is due. This is the usual Hollywood “well that’s the way it is” scene that justifies the ridiculous tacked on ending where he assassinates them in their remote mountain cabin, putting a gun in a man’s hand and setting the place on fire to use their own “setup medicine” against them. Sure, it’s delightful watching Ned Beatty’s untouachable, slimy Senator squeal like a pig, but why didn’t he just kill them on the mountaintop? It’s bad screenwriting. But hey, they killed the man’s dog. We gotta see them die. If you don’t think about the movie too much, it’s damn good fun. There is a dearth of good sniper movies, and this is a decent one.
3 fully jacketed Hornady .50 caliber rounds out of 4