by Del Harvey
Loosely borrowed from novelist Stephen Hunter’s book, Point of Impact, director Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter takes the book’s All-American theme and updates it for contemporary purposes.
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The film begins with our hero, Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) as a Marine sniper doing overwatch service with his spotting partner, Donny Fenn. They must protect a motorized squad returning from a mission. Things seem to go well enough at first, in spite of the approach of a small military vehicle whose two soldiers Wahlberg dispatches with calm, cool professionalism. Then they see the horde of military vehicles bearing down upon their squad, firing machine guns and trying to run them to ground. The two snipers go to work quickly and soon have the pursuers stopped in their tracks. But these men turn their mortar fire on Swagger, who is sitting at a comfortable distance of about a mile away. Then they call in a helicopter. His partner, Fenn, is killed when the chopper blows Hell out of the mountaintop. Swagger takes out the chopper and, we learn later, stuck around long enough to kill 70 of the men in the pursuit group.
Three years pass, and we pick Bob Lee up on a different mountaintop, this time in the good old US of A. He’s retired, lives alone with his faithful dog, and doesn’t like company. Which is why his hackles go up when some uninvited Feds show up at his front door, led by Col. Johnson (Danny Glover), asking for his help in figuring out how an assassin is going to kill the president. Swagger’s leery of them, but he can’t help himself, and soon he’s scouting all the stops on the president’s itinerary. When he tells Johnson the spot he thinks the shooter will make his move, he gets talked into coming along.
The day of the president’s appearance, Bob Lee is giving them all the details and warning they need—but the shot is fired, anyway. He’s confused, he can’t understand why they didn’t act. Then a fat local cop shows up and starts shooting at Bob Lee, and even manages to hit him a couple of times before he can launch himself through a window. At last the chase is on, the fall guy has been set up, and Johnson believes it will be just a matter of time before they catch the man who tried to kill the president.
But it’s more complicated than that. Fuqua turns up the heat in Shooter, giving us a left-wing sheep in wolf’s clothing. And we want it. This is one time where we are gung ho all the way for our All-American hero. Bob Lee Swagger is, after all, just another blue collar local boy standing up for himself. And isn’t that what this country is supposed to be about? Freedom of speech? The right to a fair trial? Due process? Well, it was until our current president got into office, and ever since things have been a little one-sided for the average American. Which is the vein into which Fuqua’s film taps, and hard. His story becomes a David and Goliath, with all of the awful doings of our current political leadership brought into the light of day and to bear on the little guy’s weakness. That weakness? A lack of money; and money equals power. Bob Lee must stick to the back roads, dependent on the kindness of others like himself—simple folk who do their day’s work and go home to their high-priced, lower class homes. He lucks into the aid of another jaded member of the government in FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena), who was there the day of the shooting, whose car was stolen by Swagger, and who is smart enough to know when he’s being lied to.
As these good Americans turn to each other to help one of their own, Swagger heals up and sets out to “burn their playhouse down.” He’s got an ace up his sleeve which he cannot believe Col. Johnson missed, and which he uses as his trump card when he’s finally hauled before an FBI tribunal. But he’s told that this is not the kind of conspiracy that can be defeated by cutting off the head – it’s much too real for that, comprised as it is of greedy politicians and greedy corporate executives who work together to sate that greed and find ways of satisfying it further. One of these politicians is played to smarmy perfection by supporting player extraordinaire Ned Beatty, the man who controls Johnson’s purse strings. He becomes Swagger’s eventual, if not symbolic, target for what is wrong with this country.
And, in the end, it’s just too bad that we couldn’t have a little All-American justice come to fruition in life as Fuqua imagines in the film. It would be very true to the spirit of our country’s heritage; but very much against the policies of Homeland Security. And that’s really what’s best for us all… Isn’t it?
Del Harvey is a founding father of FM, a film reviewer, filmmaker, and film teacher living in Chicago.
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