I have no idea what the original novel by Stephen Hunter is like, but the movie Shooter is a series of very satisfying explosions loosely tied together by government conspiracy.
The film opens in Ethiopia, where we witness military sniper Bob Lee Swagger’s (Mark Wahlberg) godlike marksmanship, shooting people’s heads off from over a mile away. The military then decides to leave Swagger in the warzone to die. Swagger’s best friend and spotter is cut down by helicopter fire, and Swagger shoots it down.
This sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Years later, Swagger has retired to a cabin nestled in some picturesque snowy mountains. He keeps an adorable hound dog trained to fetch beers from the fridge. He wears flannel and has a ponytail. He reads leftist, political blogs. Then the government comes knocking on his door, headed by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover). There’s a plot to assassinate the President, and they need Swagger, with his special skills, to stop it. Swagger, still a patriot at heart who believes in the innate goodness of the system, is swayed by the Colonel’s rhetoric and agrees to lend a hand.
Surprise, it’s a setup: Swagger is framed for attempting to shoot the President, shot twice, and on the run.
He enlists the aid of his best friend’s widow Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara) with not dying from his egregious wounds and the help of newbie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) in finding answers and exacting his revenge.
In the process, he blasts dozens of extras with homemade napalm, blows up another helicopter, and causes excessive property damage.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable popcorn-muncher as long as you don’t mind that the movie can go up to 20 minutes at a time without an explosion or someone getting shot.
(You can always occupy yourself with Wahlberg’s manly biceps while waiting for another glorious blaze of pyrotechnics.) Wahlberg’s acting is mediocre at best, although the script really only calls on him for three facial expressions: righteous patriotism, righteous anger, and righteous stoicism.
Glover, however, does a fantastic job as the sinister Colonel, while Pena’s character, the fresh-faced, well-meaning FBI agent Memphis, is the only truly likeable character who receives any sort of meaningful character development.
In conclusion: B- for story, A+++++ for explosions!