Paramount // 2007 // 125 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // September 20th, 2007
Yesterday was about honor. Today is about justice.
In 2006, Mark Wahlberg turned in two of the best performances of his career, first as the inspiring lead in Invincible, and then as a police sergeant in The Departed (for which he received an Oscar nomination). In 2007, Wahlberg apparently decided to cash in on his newly earned respectability and star in a Charles Bronson-like shoot 'em up aptly titled, Shooter.
Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg), one of the world's premiere marksmen, is retired and lives as a hermit in the Rocky Mountains. He previously worked for the United States military, but now has a deep distrust of the government after his partner was killed by a U.S. helicopter during a botched mission in Ethiopia. Despite his misgivings, Swagger is coaxed out of retirement to protect the president after Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon) convinces him an assassination attempt is imminent.
Of course, all is not as it seems, and Swagger is unwittingly lured into a violent, nefarious plot with unknown aims. But he will stop at nothing, including large-scale indiscriminate killing -- which he actually seems to kind of enjoy -- to clear his name and get to the truth.
Initially, I didn't expect much from Shooter. At the time of its theatrical release it had seemed like a nondescript revenge fantasy and I thought its mediocre reviews validated my suspicions. But for the first 15 minutes of the movie I was surprised to find myself engrossed. Though the story had yet to develop, I found Wahlberg, whose acting seems to improve with every film, compelling and effective as a man who is both a cold-blooded killer and a disgruntled conspiracy nut. That's a combustible combination, and I was anxious to see where the film took this character. And then Danny Glover showed up.
It's hardly entirely Glover's fault, though his character's appearance serves as a clear point of demarcation, after which Shooter get progressively worse (or at the very least, progressively ridiculous). The first, albeit forgivable, stretch is when Jackson convinces Swagger -- a man with a seemingly intractable grudge against his government -- to come out of retirement to help the president. But as unlikely as that would seem, everything that happens from then on alternates between simply far-fetched and absolute farce.
I won't delve too deeply into the plot, but as you could probably assume, with a film called Shooter, there's a lot of violence. Now I don't want to come off as prudish; I've played Grand Theft Auto and found running over innocent bystanders disturbingly enjoyable. But still, the large scale carnage in Shooter seemed not only excessive, but silly. Swagger doesn't just kill scores of nondescript goons, but shoots the majority of them in their heads, which invariably splatter like a watermelon hit with a sledgehammer. While this sort of mayhem may have worked in 1980s classics like Rambo: First Blood Part II and Commando, its ineffective here.
This is largely because Shooter appears to take itself so seriously, violence notwithstanding. In particular, the film seems to be sincerely trying to say that many of the powerbrokers in our government are violent psychopaths. I say "seems to" because I'm not entirely convinced this film is entirely in earnest, but if it is, it has to the most nonsensical portrayal of governmental malfeasance since She Hate Me.
That said, for individuals who aren't really interested in intricate plots, realistic character arcs, or genuine human drama, but do what to see a lot of people die grisly, violent deaths, Shooter is pretty good. And while I don't have a strong appreciation for that kind of cinema, I know a lot of people who do, and I'm going to strongly recommend this to them.
Shooter does benefit from some great location shooting and a fine transfer. In particular, the scenes in the Rocky Mountains and Africa looking stunning. In general, the detail throughout the film is exquisite, but many of the outdoor shots are breathtaking. The sound is also impressive, with gunshots and crowd noise in particular making great use of the rear speakers.
The HD DVD of Shooter has identical supplements to its DVD and Blu-ray counterparts. There is plenty here to dig into. Most noteworthy is "Survival of the Fittest," a featurette on snipers, and the training cast members went through to accurately play expert marksmen. There is also a commentary track with the film's director, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), who seems intelligent and thoughtful, but unfortunately gives few hints that this film is any sort of satire.
Additionally, there are 11 minutes of deleted scenes. These add little to the story, and were wisely cut, since the film already seems bloated at over two hours in length. There is also the short featurette "Independence Hall," which breaks down the key assassination scene in the film.
Though his role as a corrupt United States senator is one of the most ridiculous parts in the movie, it's good to see Ned Beatty again. I don't know why this guy doesn't get more work.
Shooter is well made in the sense that it looks good, is well acted, and has an impressively high body count. However, the plot strains credulity early on, then shatters it entirely before the film's even halfway over. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but I nonetheless highly recommend it to anyone who's into conspiracy theories and shooting people in the face.
Bob Lee Swagger may be able to elude the police, but he can't avoid this court's decision. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2007 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Seven deleted scenes
* "Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter"
* Commentary by director Antoine Fuqua
* "Independence Hall" featurette
* Theatrical trailer
* Official site