Screenwriter: Jonathan Lemkin, Stephen Hunter
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas
Running time: 124 minutes
Steering the right side of mediocre, Shooter capitalises on fine performances by Mark Wahlberg and Danny Glover to deliver a healthy dose of flashes and bangs to thrill your average action film aficionado. Away from the sheer adrenaline count though, attempts to put across a contemporary political agenda ultimately fall flat by the film’s own stylistic leanings.
Shooter just about works by hooking us in early with a nail biting opening sequence where US army sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) is left for dead by his own superiors after taking on a convoy of enemy lorries. Having survived and retired to a remote forest amidst much bitterness, a team of government officials led by war hero Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) track Swagger down with a very special request - to plan an assassination attempt on the President.
Now, the operative word here is ‘plan’. They just want to know how an expert would go about planning to put a bullet in the country’s leader from long range so they can prevent anyone doing it for real. But there's a nasty twist in store for Swagger. Well, if there wasn't it would be one hell of a dull movie. Before he knows it, he’s public enemy number one and playing cat and mouse with the authorities as a conspiracy is uncovered. Only a junior detective and a dead colleague’s girlfriend offer him any hope. Well, not forgetting his trusty gun.
Director Antoine Fuqua certainly knows how to helm exciting and rather loud action set-pieces that maximise their visceral impact on the viewer. The opening sniper sequence takes us into the heart of the action with plenty of subjective shots and close proximity helicopter explosions. In terms of sheer body count, Swagger's mission to counter a trap laid down for him by taking on a team of commandos outside a remote ranch makes the cinema ooze with the stench of napalm and frying flesh. Oh yes, the spirit of Rambo lives on - thankfully minus the greasy mullet.
However, the tendency to heighten these sequences by deploying action film conventions like slow mo and an emotive score tend to undervalue the film's political pretensions. How can we take seriously a few digs at the fatalities resulting from US foreign policy when the film so delights in depicting the slaying of faceless 'enemy' soldiers who Swagger picks off?
Wahlberg’s acting muscles aren’t given that much chance to flex in the role, but his credentials as a likeable lead are enhanced further. He is believable as a man with fire in his eyes out for revenge, whilst maintaining a calm and methodical approach. His physical presence also commands authority, with his beefed-up, constantly wounded body making for an apt illing machine.
Best known for playing likeable characters, Danny Glover lends a sinister air to proceedings with a performance of quiet menace, whilst Michael Peña takes on the mandatory ‘ordinary bloke in an extraordinary situation’ style role as a 'wet behind the ears' rookie FBI agent.
Shooter is nothing special, but a combination of appealing performances, intriguing plot twists and exciting action sequences mean that we’re never less than entertained.