March 27, 2007

Movie Review: Shooter

Feeling like a cross between an 80's era Stallone or Scwarzenegger flick and Bourne Supremacy-lite, Shooter delivers a straight up action revenge film that is easy to get sucked into and hard to resist. As I sat in the theater and watched, I couldn't help but think that this is the movie that The Marine wanted to be, but that is an entirely different issue. Shooter is based on paranoid conspiracy where they are out to get you. It is an effective film that plays cinematic shorthand with character identification and gets right down to the action, never wasting a moment on an extraneous subplot. In this regard, this is a successful movie that will keep you interested and not tax your ability to piece together an intricate plot. That is not to say that is is not smartly written, it is, but it is also an action film at its heart, and it delivers.

We are immediately introduced to our hero in the first scene. Mark Wahlberg is Bob Lee Swagger, a name which is more of a way of life (watch Wahlberg walk, it is never without a certain tough guy swagger), an expert Special Ops sharpshooter. He is with his spotter in Ethiopia, protecting a path way for a Marine convoy. Things go bad and Swagger and his spotter, also his best friend, are left to fend for themselves. Swagger makes it out alive and shortly thereafter he retires from the Marines and moves off the grid.

Fast forward a few years, Swagger is visited by Colonel Isaac Johnson, played with a decidedly low key sense of menace. The visit seems innocuous enough, but there is more than meets the eye. Johnson tells of a suspected attempt to be made on the President's life by an unknown sharpshooter from more than a mile away. Swagger's expertise as a sniper is needed to help ring him down. Swagger doesn't want to help, but if he didn't where would this movie be? Anyway, he chooses to help and it turns out to be a setup with Swagger as the fall guy. Now, it is up to our hero to uncover the conspiracy and find out who is behind it and why, plus clear his own name.

All of that is shown in the trailer, and to tell more would probably be to tell too much. There is not much in the way of subtext. The story is a straight shot from the outset, it does not waste any of its screentime, it never switches stories, or introduces characters or plot points that are not absolutely necessary to the outcome of the movie. In a sense, it is a thriller that has been boiled down to its bare essence, and then pumped back up with post 9/11 conspiracy theories and paranoid machismo. All of the elements come together to form a an entertaining thriller that is good for the moment, but doesn't step into the range of greatness.

Mark Wahlberg plays Swagger with that aforementioned swagger, but also with an easy confidence. He knows what he has to do and is determined to reach his end. He is also a very human character with limitations, a far cry from the superhuman Rambo types that were a staple of these types of movies for a long period. Joining him in his quest for justice is Michael Pena (World Trade Center), playing freshman FBI Agent Nick Memphis, as the sidekick. He stays to the background, leaving Wahlberg to do his thing, but he is the guy that we, the audience, can identify with. He is filled with curiosity and sees the inconsistencies and problems with what went down, but is shot down at every turn, the only way to find the truth is to team up with wanted man. There is one other face on the side of right, Kate Mara as Sarah Fenn, Swagger's spotter's sister. She is adorable, but she is also the biggest glaring problem, her acting and accent is just awful, I did not believe her to be this character for a second. Can't win them all. On the opposition is the trifecta of Glover, his rabid guard dog Jack Payne, played by Elias Koteas, and Ned Beatty as a corrupt senator.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua, the film is always exciting, and is definitely stronger than his misstep in King Arthur. Here he demonstrates a much tighter focus of the material and digs straight ahead. The script from Jonathan Lemkin is also a step up from his last outing, Red Planet, it flows well as Swagger moves forward with his off the cuff plan to attain justice.

Bottomline. A solid thriller with good acting, for the most part, explosive action and a straight up story of justice. Wahlberg continues to be a solid actor looking very natural in his role as the heart and soul of the film. This is a film to see, it is a definite crowd pleaser. I am not crazy about the title, but I'll get over it.



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