(Movie Review by Richard Lewis) I have always liked Mark Wahlberg. It is not because he is the most accomplished performer of his generation, and it would be a stretch to call him a method actor. And no one would ever compare him to the Edward Norton’s or Leonardo DiCaprio’s of the world (Academy Award nomination for “The Departed” notwithstanding). With Wahlberg, what you see is what you get. And what you get is usually pretty good. He excels at playing the common man: blue collar, gritty, the kind of guy you knew growing up in the neighborhood. A guy who is handsome enough to get the girl but also tough enough to kick some ass when needed. In “Shooter” Wahlberg gets the girl and kicks a whole lot of ass along the way.
In “Shooter”, Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a former Marine scout sniper and disgruntled veteran living a secluded life in a remote mountain hideaway with his flannel shirt, scruffy beard, guns, and faithful dog. His serenity is disrupted when he is paid a visit by retired Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover). Colonel Johnson explains to Swagger that his country needs him once again to serve, this time to foil an assassination plot on the President of the United States. Swagger is one of the best sniper/marksmen alive, so if anyone can understand the mind of a trained killer, Swagger can.
Of course Swagger wants no part of it, but if he refuses then we would not have a movie. So Johnson pushes all the right patriotism buttons, and within no time, Wahlberg is kicking ass and leaving a rising toll of dead bodies. Turns out the whole thing was all just a set-up, with Johnson trying to pin the assassination attempt on Swagger. So now Swagger is on the run, trying to stay alive while also bringing justice down on Colonel Johnson and his wicked lackeys. And Swagger certainly does kill a whole lot of bad people along the way. At times I was a little put off by how easily an honorable man like Swagger could mercilessly slay people. But then again, the bastards did kill his dog, so I guess they had it coming.
Although he will not get an Academy nod for this performance, it is one of Mark Wahlberg’s best so far. With the worst probably being Tim Burton’s awful “Planet of the Apes” remake of 2001. The whole understated common man thing that Wahlberg does so well just did not work there. However, it worked brilliantly in “The Departed” and also in the highly underrated “Four Brothers”. There was also the moving “Invincible”, and lets not forget Wahlberg’s gutsy performance as porn star Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights”, which I highly recommend as a rental, if you missed it.
Wahlberg’s performance in “Shooter” also reminded me of Sylvester Stallone’s subtle but powerful turn as John Rambo in the classic “First Blood”. Remember Richard Crena’s line in the movie? “Don’t forget one thing…a good supply of body bags.” Well the same is true here. Although Wahlberg does not come close to matching the depth of Stallone in “First Blood”, he does match the tone.
“Shooter” also reminds us that Hollywood gives a little too much credence to military training to explain a character’s superhuman skill set. While such training, especially that of the elite Marine scout sniper is impressive, this film would have you believe that Swagger must be much more skilled (and way luckier) than any man in the history of armed conflict. For example: apparently you can be shot multiple times and all you need is some sugar, a little tape, and a knife and you will be just fine. To his credit, Wahlberg actually underwent the rigorous training of a Marine scout sniper for the film, so when you see him handling and firing weapons, that part is very realistic. Also, Wahlberg has the rugged but youthful good looks and rippling muscles of a real military man, which helps the viewer suspend disbelief.
Danny Glover is menacing enough as the sinister Colonel Johnson, but his speech is so slurred that at times I found it hard to understand what the hell he was saying. Perhaps his Murtaugh’s “too old for this shit” has finally come to pass? Still, it was nice to see Glover back in action once again, and I found myself waxing nostalgic, remembering the mean mutha he played in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple”.
Kate Mara is the love interest that patches up Swagger’s body and just might mend his heart someday. Unlike Rambo, at least Swagger has the good sense to knock himself out and let someone else sew his wounds with thread. Michael Pena plays a novice FBI agent who risks his neck and career to help Swagger. Pena wins empathy with his vulnerability in much the same way he did playing a young first responder pinned under the rubble of the collapsed twin towers in Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” opposite Nicholas Cage.
Ned Betty provides a small but very delightful turn as the corrupt Senator who is pulling Colonel Johnson’s strings. The veteran actor, known more for comedic roles in films like “Silver Streak” and “Superman”, seems like he was having a good time being bad and he is very convincing at it. The always terrific Elias Koteas is underused here as one of Colonel Johnson’s henchmen. He is relegated to sleazily nuzzling, beating, or otherwise terrifying Kate Mara’s character. Not much to work with script wise for the actor, but he makes the most of it, and is slimy enough that it must have been an enjoyable diversion for him.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the sultry Rhona Mitra, who plays Pena’s reluctant partner. Once again, Mitra is stuck in a supportive role with very few lines, much like her roles in “The Life of David Gale” and “The Number 23.” The camera loves Mitra, and so do I. With her statuesque frame and luscious lips, I would be entertained just watching her simply peel potatoes for two hours. Hopefully, Hollywood will catch on soon and start giving her leading roles in major motion pictures. For now, we will have to subsist on these fleeting supportive roles in film and on TV’s “Boston Legal.”
“Shooter” is skillfully directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also helmed the excellent “Training Day”. “Shooter” is not nearly as deep and nuance as the former, but it is one helluva ride. If you are looking for a thriller that is sleek, high on action, but also smart, and with just the right measure of political intrigue, then “Shooter” is the film for you. It’s hard not to root for a maverick like Swagger, standing on principle and sticking it to the establishment, just like John Rambo.
Antoine Fuqua (director) / Jonathan Lemkin (screenplay), Stephen Hunter (novel)
CAST: Mark Wahlberg … Bob Lee Swagger
Kate Mara … Sarah Fenn
Rhona Mitra … Lourdes
Danny Glover … Colonel Isaac Fitzsimmons Johnson
Mackenzie Gray … Dave Simmons
Adrian Hughes … Benjamin ‘Ben’ Davis
Elias Koteas … Jack Payne
Darren Massey … Frank Russo
Michael Pena … Nick Memphis