Shooter Review

Mark Wahlberg is Bob Lee Swagger, a US Marine whose exceptional skills as a sniper allow him to take out targets up to a mile away. As the film opens, he's on a secret mission in Africa with his friend and spotter Donnie Fenn (Lane Garrison), charged with taking out hostiles in an area made volatile by local warlords. But something goes very wrong with their mission. There are more enemies than had been predicted and though their position is secure given its distance, the mortars that fall near them are getting closer. Out of the smoke comes an attack helicopter and as Swagger turns to fire on it, Fenn attempts to make contact with the US military. The white noise on the like tells him all that he had feared - they've been cut out of command and are now on their own. As the helicopter closes in, Fenn is shot dead and Swagger, using up the last of his bullets, makes one last effort to down the chopper. On his own, Swagger returns to the United States with very little love left for the military or for the country he once served.

Three years later and with Swagger living quietly on his own in the mountains, he believes he's gotten as far away from the rest of the country as is possible. But that day, Swagger is visited by federal agents, including Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), who request his assistance in guarding the safety of the US president from an attempt on his life that they believe is coming in the next few weeks. They suspect that the assassination will be attempted by a sniper and ask that Swagger scout any locations that might be used. Swagger, though not entirely happy, agrees to return to work for the government and after days in each of the three cities that are the most likely locations for the attack, he narrows down the options to just one, a sniper attack from a church tower on the President as he gives a speech on the gardens outside Independence Hall alongside an archbishop visiting from Ethiopia. Joining the rest of the federal agents in a safe building from which to oversee the arrest of the sniper, Swagger begins to notice that things aren't quite right. When a beat cop arrives with his holster unclipped, Swagger looks around for a sign that he's been set up. But it's too late. Looking through his binoculars, he sees a sniper's bullet shoot the Ethiopan archbishop dead while, behind him, the cop draws his sidearm and shoots twice. Jumping out the window, Swagger runs off but having been set up, framed and now wanted for murder, it's up to him to clear his name.

Mark Wahlberg is very serious in this film. I suspect that even if it were possible to force his teeth apart from the grimace in which they're set, we would only hear a howl of anguish. From the very beginning of this film, life, God and the entire United States military set themselves firmly against Wahlberg. His best friend and spotter dies in Africa. He dresses like a hillbilly and takes to the Kentucky mountains with only a dog and a 9/11 conspiracy book. Other than incest, there's nothing going on for miles around, which appears to suit him just fine at this time in life. He's even cursed with a ponytail but given that his mountain shack is not only lacking mirrors but any reflective surface of any kind, that's an understandable oversight as regards personal hygiene. Take all that, a purposeful reveal of a conspiracy book and a, "What lies are they trying to sell us today?" line, Wahlberg is the kind of loon who takes to the mountains to hide from the CIA's mind-bending telekinesis. He is one step away from hiding in the space under the stairs whilst wearing tinfoil on his head and drilling into his brain to silence the voices. He is very, very serious.

Unfortunately, this isn't a film to be very serious in. Mark Wahlberg's forehead is furrowed throughout but in amongst the shootings, the global politics and a sometimes laughable hop, skip and jump over various conspiracies - "It's about the oil, innit?!" would appear to be Shooter's take on all the evil in the world - Mark Walhberg would have been better had he reformed the Funky Bunch and re-released Don't Ya Sleep as Don't Ya Go To War Over No Fake Ass WMDs. Which is almost word for word a line spoken in Shooter.

Then again, the Funky Bunch were as much fun as having a great Dane taking an interest in your leg, which, no matter how small or large you are, is something that will always end badly. On the contrary, Shooter is marvellous fun, taking to hear the Bond- and Bourne-styled notion that almost anything is acceptable so long as its hero is seen shooting a vast amount of people with a range of weaponry so advanced that it looks like a gift from a landing party of spectacularly aggressive aliens. Granted, Wahlberg is a lot more deadly than I would have expected a sniper to be - clearly hiding in a ditch and wearing branches for days on end does wonders for one's abilities in armed and unarmed combat - but he swaggers through this film shooting almost everyone in sight. One scene has Wahlberg take down a couple of dozen armed soldiers and an attack helicopter and so gives one of the villains the fear that he confesses to everything and then shoots himself in the head. And he gets away with absolutely everything as though the trail is dead is just too vast for the authorities to comprehend never mind deal with.

If you enjoy the kind of film where the lead visits a hardware store and, A Team-style, builds a napalm bomb out of a packet of custard creams, a tin of paint and a pair of edible panties, then Shooter will be fine fare. It's utter nonsense but has some delusions whereby it believes itself to be saying some very important things but, occasionally, a brief moment of humour slips through the conspiracy cracks and Shooter reveals itself as a film that can laugh at itself, if only momentarily. Had Jason Statham been cast as Swagger, we'd have no doubt been laughing even as the blood spattered over the screen but Wahlberg, who's very fond of the kind of technical jibber-jabber that appears in ballistics and artillery manuals, tends to drag the film back on to more sturdy ground. Thankfully, though, Rhona Mitra, Michael Pena and, in a brilliant little cameo, blues musician Levon Helm are there to lighten the tone of Shooter. Helm's acknowledgement of Swagger's innocence with a, "They also said that artificial sweeteners were safe and WMDs were in Iraq and Anna Nicole married for love!" captures his attitude perfectly and it's unfortunate that his turn in the film is so brief.

Most of the time, though, we're in the company of Mark Wahlberg and even if he's a fairly engaging lead, he so lacks any charisma that one gets tired looking at him and the same expression he wears throughout, being one that comes with having to get to the root of a devilishly difficult conspiracy as well as to kill a lot of people in very inventive ways. That same expression has now served Matt Damon for three Bourne films with there being no good reason why Wahlberg can't follow in Bourne's footsteps as an enemy of the state who finds himself knee-deep in both conspiracies and the dead and who has to kill people in ways that would dazzle even the most inventive of serial killers. Shooter certainly leaves the future of Bob Lee Swagger very open but, in the manner of Bond or The Transporter's Frank Martin, it could do with small touches of humour to lighten a film weighed down by the bodies of those slaughtered by its Swagger. That might just have the effect of having us care about Swagger, something that Wahlberg fails to do. Serious he may be but that's not quite enough to carry Shooter on his own and as he leaves this film without Pena, who's something of a comedy sidekick, that is something that Wahlberg (and director Fuqua and writer Jonathan Lemkin) will have to come to terms with if they wish to spin this out, like Bourne and Bond, into a long running series.



Transfer

With several scenes that stand out, typically all of those involving Wahlberg unloading thousands of rounds of ammunition into various unnamed soldiers, Shooter is a very good-looking film on DVD. What is most impressive is the amount of detail in the picture and how sharp it looks through a decent connection. With a good many locations to test the image, including Africa, snow-capped mountains, Wahlberg's shack in the forest and downtown Philadelphia, there are many points in Shooter that tests the mettle of the disc but it's carried well throughout. In particular, the blacks that facilitate Wahlberg's escape look well and there's a sufficiently impressive amount of detail as to make the picking out Wahlberg's targets easy. Perhaps not quite as easy as he finds it what with the telescope that he has but this is a much sharper-looking disc than I had expected.


Like the picture, the DD5.1 sounds excellent. It is clean and clear, so much so that one notices the lack of background music in several of the scenes, particularly those in which Wahlberg lines up targets from several hundred feet away. Otherwise, there's some superb and very noticeable use of the rear channels and the subwoofer, leaving Shooter sounding as good as it looks. Finally, there are, amongst many options, English subtitles.



Extras

Commentary: Director Antoine Fuqua is on his own for this track and, well, it could be a lot more entertaining. Fuqua is happiest when talking about the various shots in the film, often stopping in mid-sentence to point out a building in the background or to complement an actor and though he makes occasional attempts to summarise the story at several points, he never really sounds as if he's either that convinced by it or, oddly for the director, that interested in it. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of silences, a lot of rambling stories about locations and much repetition. You will be fortunate to make it through this one. Life is too short for there ever to be a second time.

Making Of... (21m50s): Everybody's here, from the military advisors who worked on the film, the cast and crew, director Antoine Fuqua and even author Stephen Hunter on whose book Point Of Impact the film is based and though this is too short to describe the entire production, it does cover all that one might think necessary to know. Camouflage, the correct stance for a secret service agent and the military's choice of rifles are all covered and while it doesn't tell you how to construct pipe bombs, gas grenades and napalm charges from everyday objects, that is, happily, what the Internet is for.

Independence Hall (7m22s): The park rangers from Philadelphia are on hand to explain the importance of Independence Hall, not only for its place in the film - we have a military expert along for that - but why its basis in liberty, freedom and independence remain so important to the United States. They're a mixed bag. Some are either genuinely enthusiastic, almost to a fault, or are simply playing up to the camera while others couldn't look any more stiff if they had been carved in pine and varnished with Ronseal.

Deleted Scenes (11m22s): One of the interesting little things that Shooter does so very well is to reveal its story in flashbacks and asides to the main plot. Like, for example, its reveal of the intended target in the assassination. These Deleted Scenes tend to overplay some of the main twists in the story and Shooter probably works better without them. That said, there are a few good scenes in here, including one in which Memphis and Swagger go shopping and plenty more where they get to know one another but nothing really that deserves a place in the film.

Finally, all of these bonus features, including the Commentary, are subtitled in English. The Making Of, the Independence Hall feature and the Deleted Scenes are subtitled in English and in all the other listed languages.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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