**/**** Image B Sound A Extras B-
starring Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Ned Beatty
screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin, based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter
directed by Antoine Fuqua
by Walter Chaw Think of it as the latest in the proud tradition of Walking Tall hicksploitation: a redneck Bourne Identity with a bleeding heart tacked to its sleeve by barbed chicken wire. Or, better, think of Shooter as a noble attempt to win back the Kansan-Tennesseean-Montanan wingnut demographic from the arch-conservatives who've made men buggering one another of greater concern than their farms going under and their children fighting indefensible wars declared by an impossibly wealthy aristocracy-by-coup. Sound extreme? Shooter is all this and more: a nihilistic exercise in Old Testament revenge that has more in common with such cult classics as Next of Kin than with cult classics like the suddenly-reserved-seeming Sniper. It makes no bones about its politics, assembling talking heads in the form of a venerable Red State senator (Ned Beatty) and a too-old-for-this-shit Colonel (Danny Glover, too old for this shit almost twenty years ago) to spout on endlessly about the lack of WMDs, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, and, for shits and giggles, the conspiracy behind the JFK assassination. No The Parallax View, the film mines the complex machinations of good guys being good and bad guys being bad: bad guys being politicians and military guys drunk on power and good guys being hillbilly guardsmen with access to the Internet and too many guns.
Their king is Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg). His name also his character description, he's one of those marine super-men snipers left behind but still quick to stand at attention to anyone who knows his Marty McFly/"chicken" hot button: "Patriot." It's First Blood all over again, though most of this Rambo's targets don't really deserve it. Totally free of sense and too stupid for that to matter, the film is so American that it's possible to boil down the entire picture into the saga of a mountain man (one with a peculiar talent set) avenging his dog. When Bobby Swagger robotically mows down a troop of Tennessee National Guardsmen (several with homemade napalm in agonizingly protracted detail, no less), the "moral compass" he lectures the evil Colonel about at one point is pointing everywhere but at our dashing psychopath. (I would be remiss, however, if I didn't mention Levon Helm as a ballistics guru in what's just about the best cameo in a film since the last time Helm cameo'd in a film.) The body count Swagger amasses by the end of another movie that uses African genocide as a mere plot device is genuinely disquieting, especially considering that so many of his righteous victims are jarheads just like him, following orders just like him.
The lengths to which Shooter goes to make Swagger sympathetic suggests a self-destructive, self-loathing quality when Swagger proceeds to slaughter faceless legions of his clones. And once Swagger finally gets to butchering the Republican leaders of the free world as they sit ensconced in their leather armchair hunting lodges, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey (the hunt carried out with the tacit approval of the Attorney General himself, who is somehow not also a Vulcan), it comes across as so surreal that I wondered for a few ticks if it wasn't some perverse liberal dream sequence. It's not clear who the bad guys are, in other words, not even when it comes to Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), an earnest FBI rookie-cum-punching bag shoehorned in there as chief narrative instrument and erstwhile sidekick while mainly leaving a lasting impression as Oh Sancho comic relief.
Shooter is as puerile a NeoCon fantasy as pre-Casino Royale Bond: objectified, desexed women (both girls in the picture appear, inexplicably, in their underwear) defined by their relationships with men; idolatry of Red Dawn survivalist philosophies; infatuation with big trucks with big engines (an entire plot point hinges--cleverly, I think--on a photograph of a V8); and of course lots of long guns that director Antoine Fuqua fetishizes like a gay porn shooter. It hates the very idea of moderation and nuance, and yet whenever it takes a minute to open its mouth what it has to say is fervently anti-Bush. The picture seems to suggest that you can be a no-tax-paying Ruby Ridge/Waco kind of guy and still vote Democrat when it appears that the idiots that you elected are in fact more interested in their "haves" than your "have nots." Shooter's strength is its weakness: It's an appalling and amoral flick about the obvious. The tragedy of it is that maybe it takes a movie as dreadful as this--just as it took a war as dreadful as the one we're currently in--to pull a few more heads out of the proverbial sand. When in Rome and all that jazz, but you do wish somewhere along the way that "nuance" were as effective as all those dead patriots. Originally published: March 23, 2007.
by Bill Chambers Paramount releases Shooter on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen editions; we received the former for review. This is one dark transfer: the 2.42:1, 16x9-enhanced presentation is more often than not a pool of black with shafts of light jutting through. Peter Menzies Jr.'s cinematography just doesn't translate to the small screen very well--at least in standard definition. On the plus side, the image is fairly film-like and artifact-free. The accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is predictably assaultive, although a certain nuance to the mix is unmistakable--lots of split-surround ambience in this one, folks. Dialogue, for what it's worth, occasionally sounds distorted. Extras include a feature-length commentary from director Antoine Fuqua, who, in addition to overstating the film's grit, spends far too much time rationalizing the characters' actions, though he does veer off into an amusing anecdote about negotiating to have Mark Wahlberg appear in the buff, something Wahlberg's handlers feared would perpetuate the Marky Mark stereotype. (Fuqua won despite his flimsy-sounding rationale.)
Moving on to the video-based supplements, "Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter" (22 mins.) opens with source novelist Stephen Hunter revealing that he based Wahlberg's character (a 'Nam vet in the book) on legendary sniper Carlos Hathcock. The piece segues from there into the usual soundbite circle-jerk, not counting the interesting factoids sprinkled throughout courtesy technical advisor Patrick Garrity, who almost succeeds in making gillie suits look cool and confesses to taking poetic license in depicting the toll of a bullet from a long-range rifle on the victim. A companion featurette, "Independence Hall" (7 mins.), telescopes the focus to cover the staging of the set-piece at the eponymous historic location. (Long story short, there was more to it than obtaining permits.) Seven deleted scenes totalling 11 minutes are typically superfluous, but I enjoyed an extended version of the sequence where Swagger and Memphis stock up on supplies, which here finds Swagger doing a bit of incognito flirting with the white-trash cashier to circumvent gun laws. While all of these bonus features are in anamorphic widescreen, the same does not hold true for startup previews of Zodiac and Black Snake Moan. Originally published: June 19, 2007.