By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A decent action movie that tries to be deeper than it actually is.
Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg is the story of a Black Ops sniper who is falsely accused of an assassination. Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, one of the top marksman in the world, who lives in a self-imposed exile after an operation in Africa goes badly. The film also stars Michael Pena who delivers a decent performance and Danny Glover as an effective bad guy. Ned Beatty does a really nice job as a dirty senator and Kate Mara is in the film to serve as the inevitable romantic interest, damsel in distress and eye candy.
The film opens with Swagger and his longtime friend and spotter (the person who gives the shooter range to target, wind information, etc.) in Africa, providing cover for U.S. forces on a local road. Swagger's amazing skill is demonstrated as he picks off moving targets with apparent ease, but the operation soon goes bad, leaving him and his friend to fend for themselves in hostile territory.
Cut to Swagger living in a cabin out in the boonies sometime later with no one for company but his dog. He's approached by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) who wants him to plan an assassination of the President. The purpose is to try to discover the most likely location of an attempt that the Colonel says will be made against the President within the next couple of weeks. Swagger has been approached because apparently there is a leak inside the government and since he is "outside the loop" he can be trusted. Swagger reluctantly agrees when his patriotic buttons are pushed.
Swagger scopes out three possible locations (where the President will be making appearances in the allotted timespan) and decides upon one, stating that it is the only feasible site from which an assassination could be successfully attempted. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying that this was an elaborate setup to frame Swagger since that's the advertised premise of the film. The bulk of the movie concerns his escape from the scene and his attempt to clear his name and bring the real culprits to justice.
It was interesting to see how he would escape from an area with so much FBI, Secret Service and police coverage in the wake of the assassination attempt, although it seemed to me to be implausible at a crucial moment. Aside from that I liked how it was handled.
During his escape he comes in contact with a newbie FBI agent and tells the agent that he's (Swagger) being set up. This sets up doubt in the agent's mind (Nick Memphis, played by Pena) and he starts to work outside the chain of command to try to piece together what really happened. I was really hoping they'd avoid the cliche of having to stick a romance in the movie, but sure as heck, they did. Swagger goes to his dead buddy's fiancee Sarah Fenn (played by Kate Mara) for help and she gets sucked into the proceedings.
There's a bit of intrigue as the audience tries to figure out just how the heck Swagger is going to get out of this situation when it seems that there are such powerful people with incredible resources at their command working against him. Also there's a fair amount of action including fight scenes and lots of gunplay. However there wasn't really anything in the film that "wow'd" me... kind of a see it once and forget it movie. They tried to inject political intrigue into the film, but it felt kind of forced and flat to me.
I really like Wahlberg, but it seemed like he was a bit out of his depth here. Either that or the character just wasn't written as well as it could have been. Considering how specialized Swagger's skill was, and the fact that it was related to taking out targets at a VERY long distance, I found his amazing hand to hand combat skills a bit unbelievable. Why would a long-distance marksman be that adept at fighting? If they'd established him as an all-around special ops guy from the start it would have worked better in my opinion. This also bothered me later in the film when he planned a very elaborate attack. I just thought it was too much from the character. They started out with a military marksman, but by the end of the film he was Rambo.
Shooter isn't a bad way to kill a couple of hours. Consider it an appetizer while you wait for The Bourne Ultimatum to be come out later this year. :-)