Shooter is closely based on Point of Impact, an excellent novel by thriller writer Stephen Hunter. I read the book in the late 90’s, and enjoyed it. A lot. When I began seeing trailers for this film last year, you can bet I was excited at the prospect of seeing Bob Lee Swagger come to life on the big screen, even if it had to be “Marky” Mark Wahlberg in the role.
The film updates Hunter’s story to present day, shifting Vietnam to Iraq and villains to mercenary pawns of thinly veiled Dubya coho…ts. Otherwise, it’s fairly true to the story structure in the novel, which is a good thing in my book, but obviously the movie has to play well on its own. I’d call this one entertaining overall, but uneven – some parts are terrific, others drag it down.
Here’s the story. Bob Lee Swagger, a highly trained Marine sniper, is five years out of the army, having left after he and his spotter were abandoned in enemy territory by some prick commanding officer who decided they were expendable. Swagger got out. His spotter was killed.
Back to present day, and Swagger’s living the hermit life up in the mountains, hunting and hanging with his trusty dog. He’s approached by some guys posing as military to help them protect the president from assassination. They want him to plan it all out as if he were going to shoot the guy, so they can know how to stop a real threat. They appeal to Swagger’s strong sense of patriotism and duty, which convinces him.
Unfortunately for Swagger, things aren’t what they seem. When an assassination does go down, he’s set up as the fall guy by the men who hired him to consult. Wounded and on the run, Swagger has few options and one thing on his mind: payback.
The great thing about Shooter is its fast pace. The scene is set in under 30 minutes, and then it rockets forward with only slight pauses for breath. There’s nothing really new about the story, with archetypal characters moviegoers know on sight, which allows director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) to focus on the action. Wahlberg (Invincible) surprised me, handling not only the impressive battle sequences, but also the intricacies of his character. So often action heroes are played in an unrealistic manner, but Wahlberg shows respect for Swagger’s skills, downplays the cheese and actually seems like a real guy. A real guy who’s good at killing, of course.
On the other side, our villains aren’t as compelling. Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) isn’t menacing enough for me. I just couldn’t shake the Lethal Weapon 4 underwear bird dance. Ned Beatty (Rudy) is a different story. As a corrupt senator directing Glover’s efforts, Beatty is a perfect fit – drunk on power and intimidating in attitude, if not physical form.
Having read Point of Impact and various other sniper novels, I was bothered at times by Shooter’s inaccuracies. The filmmakers took liberties with the facts about long-range shooting, but I can’t blame them. It’s no trouble for an author to explain what’s involved without hurting his pacing, but on film such explanations don’t work. So take this movie for what it is. If you don’t hold it to a higher standard than other blockbuster action flicks, you’ll find it rises above the pack.
So, how’s the DVD?
Shooter is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical release. Boy, does it look good. From sweeping shots high on an arctic glacier to napalm explosions on a quiet rural farm, the level of detail is impressive. Blacks are deep, contrast is good and colours are consistently accurate. Compression issues? Zip. Film artifacts? Nada. This is simply a top-notch presentation, sure to satisfy.
Main audio comes by way of Dolby Digital 5.1. The aural experience is right up there with the visuals, as the mix manhandles everything Shooter has in its arsenal. Crazy gunfights with detailed audio all around? Check. Quiet, menacing sniper sequences that perfectly contrast the bombastic stuff? Here. Even the basic stuff, like the few scenes of straight dialogue, enjoys good sound levels with everything perfectly audible.
5.1 audio is also available in French and Spanish, while subtitles are only offered in English.
Shooter doesn’t exactly throw down in the bonus materials department. What’s here is good, no question, but there’s room for a double dip in the future.
- Audio commentary: by director Antoine Fuqua, a man with a deep voice and plenty to say about his film. He’s informative but not energetic, which makes for an interesting contrast with the shoot-‘em-up scenes.
- Survival of the Fittest – The Making of Shooter: at about 22 minutes, this making-of featurette is definitely worth watching. Most interesting for me was learning about how Wahlberg was trained by a real Marine sniper, and the commitment they made to realism.
- Independence Hall: this one’s shorter, and focuses on the pivotal assassination scene and its famous, historical location in Philadelphia. It feels a bit like a promo for the tourist attraction, but there are some good bits from the film’s military advisor.
- Deleted Scenes: seven in all, running about 12 minutes total. There’s nothing of great interest here, as these items were obvious cuts for time, pacing or redundancy.
- Previews: the two trailers that play upon starting the DVD, available here for intentional viewing.
Shooter surpassed my expectations. While Hunter’s novel has a lot more depth, this film adaptation ranks as one of the better action flicks I’ve seen in recent months. And thanks to superb video and audio, I’m happy to add this disc to my collection.
Special Features List
- Audio commentary
- Survival of the Fittest – The Making of Shooter
- Independence Hall
- Deleted Scenes