Mark Wahlberg as Bob Lee Swagger
Michael Peña as Nick Memphis
Danny Glover as Colonel Isaac Johnson
Kate Mara as Sarah Fenn
Elias Koteas as Jack Payne
Rhona Mitra as Alourdes Galindo
Jonathan Walker as Louis Dobbler
Justin Louis as Howard Purnell
Tate Donovan as Russ Turner
Rade Serbedzija as Michael Sandor
Alan C. Peterson as Officer Stanley Timmons
Ned Beatty as Senator Charles F. Meachum
Lane Garrison as Donnie Fenn
Directed by Antoine Fuqua
“Shooter” is a sharp political action-thriller that’s far from perfect, but Mark Wahlberg’s Bob Lee Swagger is a memorable anti-hero in the tradition of Jason Bourne that makes even the genre cliches that much more entertaining.
When former Marine sharpshooter Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is hired by the government to help prevent an assassination attempt on the President, he soon realizes that he’s been set-up. On the run from the authorities after being framed for murder, Swagger seeks out the aide of rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) and the widow of his former spotter (Kate Mara), to try to clear himself in the assassination.
Stephen Hunter’s “Point of Impact” may be one of the most underrated suspense thrillers ever written, Hunter rarely cited as an influence as much as the likes of John Grisham, but what makes the novel such a riveting read is the book’s intricate main character, Bob Lee Swagger. While “Shooter” puts Mark Wahlberg into that role and loosely bases its plot on the premise of that novel, it diverges far enough away from the information-driven pace of Hunter’s work to work well on its own merits as a tight action film.
The story starts three years in Swagger’s past, while he’s on a scouting mission with his spotter and best friend Donnie, but they’re discovered and Donnie is shot in the ambush. Three years later, Swagger has given up the military for a quiet life living in the hills until visited by Danny Glover’s Colonel Isaac Johnson, a government agent who needs Swagger’s expertise in long-range ballistics to help prevent a presidential assassination. Swagger starts scouting the areas for possible sniper roots, but when he realizes he’s being set-up, he’s forced to run for his life when framed for the murder of an African diplomat. During his escape, he encounters rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), who gets pulled into Swagger’s attempt to clear his name, as does Donnie’s widow Sarah (Kate Mara).
Although “Shooter” ably disguises itself as an action flick, there are far more layers to Mark Wahlberg and Antoine Fuqua’s take on Hunter’s premise than this kind of movie usually allows; “The Bourne Identity” is a good reference point, as is Harrison Ford’s “The Fugitive.” Once Swagger goes on the run from the authorities, there’s sometimes a danger of the movie turning into a macho action flick full of shoot-outs and slo-mo explosions, but the intelligence is always kept a notch or two above the typical Tony Scott or Michael Bay flick. A lot of Hunter’s vast research into guns and ballistics is maintained without losing sight of its audience by taking full advantage of Swagger’s skills as one of the world’s top marksmen in scenes in which he must take on an overwhelming amount of assailants. These scenes will probably be the most satisfying, though there’s enough political intrigue to keep conspiracy nuts happy as well.
Playing Bob Lee Swagger gives Wahlberg a chance to flex his tough guy muscles, but this is a much stronger anti-hero role than those he played in “The Italian Job” and “Four Brothers,” and a lot of that can be accredited to the complexities of Hunter’s original character. Swagger’s Southern roots are played down a bit, since Wahlberg doesn’t even try to use any sort of discernable regional accent, but maybe that’s a good thing. Michael Peña (“World Trade Center”) is also well cast as Swagger’s partner in trying to clear his name, giving a convincing performance as a green recruit but with enough brains to work his way around the system.
When you have two actors this strong, it makes it that much more obvious how the rest of the cast aren’t being used to best effect, particularly Kate Mara, Heath Ledger’s grown-up daughter in “Brokeback Mountain,” who’s essentially flaunted around in very little clothing before turning into the story’s damsel in distress. I’d never complain about Mara’s lack of clothing in a movie, but one particularly bothersome sequence seems to imply that one of her government captors might have lascivious plans for her. It’s pretty disturbing to suggest something like this, but we never find out if something happened except possibly for her reaction when this guy finally gets his due. It’s one of the film’s only frustrating loose ends. Danny Glover and veteran actor Ned Beatty as a shady Senator both take things a bit overboard as the type of government officials that abuse their power, and it seems like we’ve already seen these type of characters too many times before, both in movies and in recent news.
Despite the strong premise, the impressive set pieces masterminded by Fuqua and Wahlberg’s perfect casting, “Shooter” loses a bit as it goes along, mainly by outstaying its welcome with far too many epilogues that try to resolve the story in a satisfactory way. Some of this seems to point to some built-in need to resort to typical formula endings to be accepted, but ultimately, it does achieve that goal.
The Bottom Line:
“Shooter” is a decent thriller with enough action and conspiracy-based intrigue to entertain and appease fans of movies like “The Bourne Identity” and its sequel. While this type of testosterone-driven fare won’t have much to offer the ladies, it’s far better than its Hollywood roots belies, doing justice to Hunter’s character without losing sight of its mission to provide entertainment. Fans of Hunter’s novels shouldn’t be so put-off by the changes to hope that the movie does well enough to see Wahlberg reprise the role of Swagger in future Hunter adaptations.