As an action film, Shooter is made with great professionalism, using top flight actors and superb production values. None of this disguises the fact that the story is assembled out of well-used spare parts from other movies, not all of which fit together neatly. What emerges is a Frankenstein’s monster that photographs extremely well.
Mark Wahlberg plays a Marine Scout Sniper named Bob Lee Swagger (and with a name like that, you know he’s going to be kicking some serious ass before the end credits roll). As the movie opens, he’s in Ethiopia on a mission for some three-letter agency of the U.S. government, which goes terribly wrong and his spotter is killed. He returns home to live in seclusion in the Kentucky mountains, where he is approached by some shadowy men led by Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), with a job for Swagger. They want him to figure out how to kill the U.S. President in order to help them stop an expected assassination attempt.
Not unexpectedly, there is an attempt on the President’s life and Swagger is framed for it, putting him on the run from the FBI. One of the agents chasing him, the inexperienced Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), is suspicious of how quickly the information on Swagger came in and starts asking questions that attracts some unwanted attention from the actual assassins.
Swagger is aided by Sarah (Kate Mara), his spotter’s window, who throws in with him despite all the television news telling her he just tried to kill the president.
Despite the derivative plot, Shooter has its share of nice touches that separate it from the horde of similar films. The bad guys are smart and seem genuinely dangerous, requiring Swagger to be all that much more dangerous. There is also a nice scene in which Swagger consults with a legendary reclusive gun expert played by the former drummer for The Band, Levon Helm. He one of those guys who knows where the bodies are buried in the JFK conspiracy because, as he puts it, “I still have the shovel.” Also, the relationship with the window would have been a romance in a lesser film, even if it made no emotional sense for the characters to hook up.
A movie like this promises plenty of the old ultra-violence and Shooter keeps faith with us on this score. If there were a futures market for blood squibs, this movie would have driven the price into the stratosphere. Swagger dispatches bad guys with regularity and Col. Johnson seems to have a bottomless supply of henchmen.
Wahlberg is convincingly taciturn as a highly trained marksman and Danny Glover makes the most of a thinly written role. Kate Mara is decent in a largely superfluous part whose main purpose is to be menaced. As a crooked U.S. Senator, Ned Beatty seems to be channeling the country bumpkin cousin of his role in Network.
If you like this kind of movie, you’re probably really going to like Shooter. Then again, if you like this kind of movie, then you’ve already seen this movie, many times.