As a sweeping helicopter shot flows smoothly over a river somewhere in Africa, an oil pipeline hovers into view. It’s immediately obvious that the film is going to have something to do with that pipeline, but just how preachy its presence becomes isn’t apparent until the painfully convoluted movie is nearing its raucous but unsatisfying ending. But I get ahead of myself. It’s kind of appropriate though, since Shooter spends much of the time getting ahead of itself as well.
Once upon a time Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) was the best sniper in the United States Marines. Since losing his partner and being abandoned by the military during a botched mission in Ethiopia, he’s left the few and the proud and taken up a redneck hermit’s life in the mountains. His solitude is broken when one Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) shows up at his cabin to enlist his help in preventing a suspected sniper-style assassination attempt on the President. He reluctantly agrees and sets out to help them prevent the incident by scouting out the location and telling them how he would do it if he were planning the shot.
On the day of the anticipated attempt, Swagger is on hand just in case. Despite all Swagger’s efforts, a sniper shot kills a foreign archbishop standing right next to the President. What Bob Lee believed was an effort to protect the Commander-in-Chief turns into a nasty assassination conspiracy and he’s the one left holding the bag. Finding himself the focus of every law enforcement agency in the country, Swagger sets out to prove his innocence and take his revenge on those who set him up.
His only allies in his crusade are Sarah (Kate Mara), the widow of his partner, and Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), a rookie FBI agent who seems to be the only person in the whole of the United States government who doesn’t have his head up his butt. At first I figured that was only an initial condition and that with time Memphis’ superiors would come around to some common sense. Not so. Their arrogance and incompetence were only the tip of the iceberg for the government bash-fest that Shooter ultimately becomes.
Swagger’s investigations reveal that the people who set him up were in bed with the government and that their efforts to frame him were part of a vast conspiracy to cover up mass murders committed by the government to protect precious oil supplies. The movie quickly descends into a lackluster parade of impotent government officials and corrupt southern Senators with Swagger and company trying desperately but fruitlessly to bring them to justice. I’m all for movies with a solid evil-government plot line, but this one is so annoyingly blatant that you can’t help wonder if it was sponsored in part by the Democratic National Party.
The final product is the weakly conceived derivative of The Bourne Identity crossed with The Fugitive rounded off with a bizarre finale bent more on placating people angry at politicians than providing an enjoyable ending to the story. It’s a shame. There’s a solid action thriller movie in there somewhere but director Antoine Fuqua strikes again with the same muddled storytelling style that made Arthur such a massive disaster.
Wahlberg, Glover and everyone else in the film come off the worse for wear under Fuqua’s feeble guidance, giving performances that often made me cringe in embarrassment. Whatever magic Fuqua weaved for his flash-in-the-pan success Training Day is nowhere to be seen here. The only redeeming quality to the film is the handful of action sequences that only mildly get the adrenaline pumping. They’re too few and far between to salvage the movie, leaving Shooter to wallow in the shadow of most other action thrillers out there.