Patriotic Movie Review: "Shooter"

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A marksman living in exile is coaxed back into action after learning of a plot to kill the president. Ultimately double-crossed and framed for the attempt, he goes on the run to track the real killer and find out who exactly set him up, and why.
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Rating: R
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2007
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Genre: Action / Crime / Drama

War can do a lot of terrible things to a man who manages to survive it, especially if he feels guilty for something that happened on his watch. In "Shooter," a former Marine sniper retreats from the world to live mostly off the grid, still haunted by the fact that his spotter was killed in action during a covert mission. Like most people in films who just want to be left in peace, he is roused out of his retirement to serve his country again, with some consequences so severe that it may be the last time he serves his country, or does anything at all.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the ex-Marine, Bob Lee Swagger, who has now retired from the military and is living on a mountain with his trusty dog by his side. He is living in relative peace when one day Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) and two of his cohorts swing by to ask him for a big favor that will change his life forever. They have uncovered a plan to assassinate the President, and want Swagger to scope out possible places where a sniper could carry out the attack. The President has a lot of public appearances ahead, so getting an ex-sniper to tell them which vantage points could be used to kill him is a smart plan. Swagger reluctantly agrees because he wants to do the right thing, like a modern-day Rambo with a much larger vocabulary.

He accompanies Johnson and Jack Payne (Elias Koteas) to various locations on the east coast where the President is scheduled to be. In Philadelphia, he is on top of a building to see if it would be a likely sniper perch when gunshots ring out from a different building. A police officer who happens to be on the same roof as Swagger immediately assumes it was him who fired the shots, and pursues him as a suspect. Soon, there is a manhunt, with a wounded Swagger as the hunted. He manages to get to the house of Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara), the widow of his spotter who was killed in action. She and an FBI recruit named Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) are the only people who believe he is innocent, and therefore his only allies. It turns out that there is a conspiracy that goes very deep here, starting with Johnson and having something to do with smarmy Senator Charles F. Meachum (Ned Beatty). Swagger must use his military training and lightning-fast instincts to prove the conspiracy before he is killed and goes down as a bloody, evil footnote in history.

With a last name like Swagger, a person has to have a certain amount of skills and maybe a little chutzpah to live up to that name. Swagger has skills in spades and just enough chutzpah to make him super, but not superhuman. He is very much human, and Wahlberg makes sure to show that on the screen. Swagger can't move mountains, but he is willing to try to do the right thing. That kind of audacity, the best kind of audacity, is almost a superhuman power in itself, but the script by Jonathan Lemkin falls just short of assigning superhero status to Swagger. That's not to say that he isn't a hero, but he feels like a real human being that could actually exist. This believability is a key component to the character and to the entire film, because the premise then doesn't seem far-fetched at all, making the action and conspiracy all the more exciting.

In fact, in an age where conspiracy theories abound and the government can spy on just about anyone legally, the predicament that Swagger finds himself in feels almost agonizingly possible. Director Antoine Fuqua brings so much tension to the film that the audience almost doesn't have time to think about whether a situation like this could actually happen or not. The tension and thrills are reminiscent of some of his best work in "Training Day," his best film to date. He manages to meld the best tropes from classic conspiracy and thriller films together to create a cohesive, tightly wound story that doesn't let up once it shifts into overdrive.

There was talk of a sequel to the film, and perhaps an entire franchise based on the character. It would essentially turn Swagger into a John Rambo type who has to go to battle through no fault of his own multiple times. Even if that sequel never comes to fruition, "Shooter" is a satisfying stand-alone movie that is well worth two hours of the viewer's time.