Judge Joel Pearce thinks the name of character Bob Lee Swagger should have been changed to something more believable, like Roger Lee Swagger.
Our review of Shooter (HD DVD), published September 20th, 2007, is also available.
Slow death at 1,800 yards.
Before I get started on my review, I have to get something off my chest. Bob Lee Swagger is the silliest character name I've ever heard. It's stunning to actually hear characters call him that, knowing full well that nobody in the production team ever paused and said: "good lord, we have to change this guy's name." That lack of forethought is what prevents Shooter from becoming a great action flick.
Facts of the Case
Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg, The Departed) is pissed. He's one of the world's greatest snipers, but the army left him abandoned Behind Enemy Lines. He lives for a few years alone, until shady agency Colonel Johnson (Danny Glover, Dreamgirls) shows up and convinces him to go In the Line of Fire to save the president. But Johnson isn't who he says he is, which means that Swagger is about to be framed and Left for Dead. Swagger escapes, though, and now he's The Fugitive, with Nowhere to Run. They've drawn First Blood, and damned if he's going to Die Hard before he turns his Lethal Weapon on all those responsible.
Apparently, Shooter is based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter (movie critic for The Washington Post), though that doesn't make much difference here. The recipe for the film is pretty simple. Begin with the betrayed killer a la Jason Bourne. Add a dash of The Fugitive's chase scenes. Stir in a hearty dose of Rambo's ingenious killing style, and you already know exactly what to expect. It's a competently made film, but it doesn't grow into the sharp thriller it so desperately aspires to be.
There's no one thing to blame for this failure, but the cast is a good place to start. Though Mark Wahlberg handles his action scenes well, he isn't able to bring his natural, easygoing style to this role. Instead, he has to be a calculated killer, which he doesn't manage as well. His smarmy comments aren't very sincere, making him sound more like an anti-establishment conspiracy nut than a cranky ex-military hero. To be fair, Wahlberg certainly doesn't get the support he needs from the rest of the cast. Nick Memphis is little more than a plot device, and his role lacks the required urgency or self-determination to earn sidekick status. Kate Mara and Rhona Mitra are just there so we can see some cleavage occasionally in what's really a man's film, and Danny Glover plays yet another subtly evil bad guy. Even in the most exciting films, we need strong characters to latch onto, and we don't get any here.
The pacing of Shooter is also quite stilted. The second half features a ton of action, but after we get through the impressive initial set piece, the setup for the film's real conflict takes twice as long as we need to get to know the characters and figure out whom to trust. The special mission they offer Swagger is so ridiculous that we lose a lot of respect for him, since a man trained in counter-intelligence shouldn't actually fall for it. We lose even more when he gets caught in the trap, and his connection to his dead partner's widow never plays out with tact or humanity. She is little more than a plot device, an opportunity for Swagger to get healed and nearly laid, and give him someone to rescue at the end.
Once the film makes it past its rocky setup, though, Shooter really kicks into high gear. It has several inspired action sequences, full of strangely compelling and almost believable shootouts, explosions, and hand-to-hand combat. I haven't seen this kind of fight choreography since the first Bourne Identity, and it's even better here. While we never really buy Swagger when he talks, Wahlberg does a hell of a job as an action hero. While Antoine Fuqua still needs to keep working on his storytelling, he's consistently proven himself to have a great eye for action, and Shooter has some of his best sequences yet. If only the action had been planted into a more inventive tale.
For the most part, Paramount has delivered a top-notch DVD. The picture quality isn't quite perfect, with some slightly washed-out colors and a slightly older look. I almost wondered if this is intentional, to give it the look of an '80s action movie as well. As it turns out, it was shot on an anamorphic lens, specifically to give it a classic feel. The sound, however, flat-out rocks. While the dialogue isn't always as clear as it should be, the action scenes make full use of every channel, and the subwoofer doesn't get much resting time either. There are a few special features on the disc, which show the attention to detail that was put into the film. There's a commentary track from Fuqua, which is low-key and sincere. Although I was a bit disappointed with the end result of Shooter, it's hard to deny that Fuqua accomplished exactly what he wanted to. He did his research, made the movie he wanted to, and is proud of it. The production featurette is a little less flattering, as the cast and crew congratulate themselves and each other. We also get a look at the filming at Independence Hall, as well as a collection of deleted scenes. As usual, there's a reason the clips on the cutting room floor were abandoned. You'll be glad these orphans weren't adopted back into the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses Ultimately, it works as a throwback to the big, fun, loud '80s action movies that have disappeared in the past two decades. It's nice to have them back, even though I would have liked to see them develop in the interim.
Despite a painfully slow start and some cheeseball acting, I can't complain too much about Shooter. It's a big, loud, old-fashioned action film, and never promises to deliver anything more. Kick back on a Friday night, turn up the volume, and party like it's 1985. Just a bit more tact and brains, and it could have been an action classic.
Guilty, but in the end, it's not a bad kind of guilty. Off you go!
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• Production Featurette
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