02 April 2007


Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Jonathan Lemkin

Grade: B

Mark Wahlberg, as Bob Lee Swagger, explodes a lot of heads throughout Shooter via pinpointed sniper shots, while the film itself figuratively does the same to the audience—Shooter blew my mind! Well, not really, but I was surprised to have enjoyed it so much, as well as to see a made-for-the-multiplex film so slightly, subversively, and subtextually driven by the belief that America was lied to about what happened on September 11th. Early on, Swagger is in his deep-in-the-woods cabin, drinking his coffee and surfing the web. “What lies are they trying to sell us today?” he asks his dog, as, significantly and not accidentally, a copy of the 9-11 Commission Report sits on the desk next to him. Fuqua and Lemkin come across as wildly mistrustful of every governmental organization and livid about the state of current events, but how best to convey that to an audience of knucklenecks, especially when you yourself are something of a numbskull?

Easy: tell a dumb story with a lot of loud explosions—Shooter plays out like Three Days of the Condor with a lobotomy. Swagger, whose tripartite name is meant to recall Lee Harvey’s, is a former Marine living in exile after a tragic stint in Ethiopia; he’s visited by a shady Colonel Johnson (Danny Glover, with an irritating and distracting lisp) and his goons in an attempt to recruit him to help prevent an assassination attempt on the president. Reluctantly, with the faintest surviving glimmers of patriotic duty (you can take the man out of the Marines but you can’t take the Marine out of the man), he agrees. Turns out he’s intended to be a patsy; while the president isn’t hit—an Ethiopian archbishop standing next to him is—Swagger, who’s been thoroughly set up for the crime, is shot by an Officer Timmons (whose name is obviously meant to recall J.D. Tippit’s) and falls quite a few stories though happily survives, recuperates, and kills a whole lot of people on the road to revenge.

But wait, why did they want to kill an Ethiopian archbishop of all people? Well, who cares? I certainly don’t and I don’t believe the filmmakers really do either; the brief explanatory scene comes across as a grudging obligation, akin to taking a girl out to dinner before she’ll sleep with you. Accordingly, that scene is followed by an orgasmic display of thoughtless violence, replete with an abundance of big, noisy blasts.

Shooter is madly furious and bitterly cynical, accurately reflecting the political frustrations of its time (despite its heavy borrowing from the JFK assassination legend), namely the public's despondency over a cabal of corrupt politicians who won’t get their goddamn comeuppance! While its September 11th paranoia and general suspicions of conspiratorial perfidy may smack of left-wing-protestor politics, the film’s spirit of gun-toting individualism belies a conservative core; perhaps we could say that Shooter is so far to the right, it winds up on the left. Essentially, though, it’s just a very angry film absent party-affiliation, with passionate speeches about issues like Abu Ghraib scapegoating and snide remarks about the Office of the President; when Col. Johnson asks, "Do we let a group of thugs run this country?", in reference to the supposed assassins, Swagger replies, "Yeah, some years we do." (Ultimately, though, it merely resorts to a lot of name-calling: according to Swagger, Col. Johnson’s a “son of a bitch”, while Ned Beatty’s oily Senator—the Dick Cheney stand-in—is a “sick fuck”.) As with the scene in Joe Dante’s Homecoming wherein the film’s Casey Sheehan surrogate shot the Karl Rove surrogate in the face, Shooter is best appreciated as a release for Americans who feel impotent in their ability to affect the political process. When shit is fucked, fuck shit up, and who better to act that out through vicariously than Mark Wahlberg? Swagger even gives some bad Americans a taste of their own medicine when he fries them with napalm bombs—take that, assholes!

If Shooter were a courageous film of the Empire Strikes Back or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service variety, it wouldn’t have its crowd-pleasing final reel; but it's just a stupid action movie, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. These kinds of movies don't get much better, thanks in large part to Fuqua’s spot-on pacing—he knows when to give a little, give a lot, hold back, toss in a joke, or shut up. Wahlberg, for his part, won’t get himself another Oscar nomination with this kind of folderol, but if he wound up making a career out of this kind of picture the genre, at least, would be better off for it. Wahlberg is a natural and pleasant presence on screen, and he’s even got some talent in him, evidenced by the physical pain that registers in his body immediately following Timmons’ shooting. That’s a lot more than could be said for someone like John Cena.

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