Shooter (2007)

While Swagger describes himself modestly, he's also one of those highly trained government instruments whose post-trauma mission in life is vengeance.


Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra, Rade Sherbedgia, Ned Beatty
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 2007
US Release Date: 2007-03-23 (General release)
How is that Halliburton gets the engineering job in Iraq without any bidding with any other company? How does that happen? I'm fascinated with that. How is it that companies get their checks from the World Bank and you can't trace any of it, you can't trace any of them?

-- Antoine Fuqua, Movieweb

Bob Lee Swagger. Is there a more perfect name for an action hero? And, as played by Mr. Buff Mark Wahlberg, Bob Lee is not only hard-bodied, handsome, and an able super-sniper, but also aptly brooding and distrusting: he's the ideal action man for a world turned upside down.

Swagger embodies that turning right off the bat in Shooter, when, during a mission in Ethiopia, he and his spotter, Donnie (Lane Garrison), are pinned down by unexpected enemy fire. The scene goes on for long minutes, with lots of expertise on display -- warlordy-looking guys' chests exploding, their heads popping off in red splats -- as Swagger and Donnie perform admirably, but alas and inevitably, Donnie must suffer the fate he sealed by pulling a photo of his sweet young wife from his wallet just before the assault. And Swagger must return Stateside damaged and vengeful.

In the film's present, "36 months later," Swagger's living the mountain man's life, "shooting his own food," trudging through snow with his beer-lapping big doggie, suitably surly when he's interrupted by a pack of suits from DC. Led by Medal of Honor-toting Colonel Johnson (Danny Glover), this obviously unreliable crew makes a pitch: someone's plotting to assassinate the president, and they need the brilliant Swagger to anticipate the plot in order to thwart it. "I don't really like the president much," snarls Swagger. Still, he's burdened by a "history of duty and patriotism," as Johnson puts it, so he's soon scouting locations in Philadelphia, setting himself as the designated shooter in an attempt on the president's life that leaves the Ethiopian archbishop dead.

Bob Lee Swagger (MARK WAHLBERG) is a former Marine Corps sniper who is the subject of a nationwide manhunt

FBI agents Alourdes Galindo (RHONA MITRA, left)
and Nick Memphis (MICHAEL PENA) take a meeting

All this is set-up. It's good-looking, heartfelt, and detailed set-up, as director Antoine Fuqua establishes Swagger's interests in the 9/11 Commission Report and ballistics tables (not to mention his dog, which makes him an especially sensitive Force Recon Marine Officer) in order to set him up as a government doubter. When his suspicion is confirmed, you're already a few steps ahead of him, long before believing the worst of Johnson and his shady associates, the impeccably named thug Jack Payne (Elias Koteas) and the sinister man-in-a-wheelchair, Sandor (Rade Sherbedgia). It's no surprise when it's revealed that a malevolent senator from Montana (Ned Beatty) is orchestrating much of the mayhem in order to assure continued oil revenues, his heh-heh-hehing of a piece with Johnson's smug assumption that he's untouchable. All this ornery machismo makes Swagger's incessant (and "honestly" motivated) bloodshed seem positively civil by comparison: he sees corporate greed and political maneuvering for what it is: contemptible sublimation for what these men can't achieve, that is, Swaggerness.

This being a genre picture, that estimable quality can't be achieved without appropriate sidekicks, even if Swagger is a loner by nature. He finds his requisite heterosexuality-affirming support in Donnie's sweet young wife, Sarah (Kate Mara), a schoolteacher conveniently trained as a nurse so she can remove bullets from his muscles. (She also conveniently looks swell in her bra, an image occasioned more than once.) And in case you're inclined to think less of Swagger for being so naïve during his framing as the assassin, he's soon hooked up with an even more naïve sidekick, FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), whose frankly remarkable charm goes a long way toward: 1) alleviating Swagger's severity and 2) underlining that even eager young company men are obligated to take up arms against their bosses when those bosses are villains (or perhaps worse, FBI plebes with seniority who do what they're told without question).

This notion that villains might be identified and "dealt with" is rather quaint. Indeed, one of them observes during his final moments on earth that this is not the "wild west" and Swagger won't be able to "clean it up with a gun," at which point you know -- again -- that this is exactly what he will do. And you'll be happy enough to see him do it. His cowboy rampaging is distinct from poser cowboy threats by virtue of his street cred: Swagger has been to war, he lives in a kind of guilt-hell over Donnie, and he can deliver just punishment, whether upfront with balls-out firepower or devious, like a stalker in the night. (When being seduced by Johnson, he responds to the question, "Do we let America be ruled by thugs?" with pertinent cynicism: "Sure, some years we do").

Bob Lee Swagger (MARK WAHLBERG, left) enlists the help of Sarah Fenn (KATE MARA), the widow of his late best friend

While Swagger describes himself modestly ("I'm just a peckerwood who lives in the woods with too many guns"), he's also one of those highly trained government instruments (like, say, Bourne) whose post-trauma mission in life is vengeance against the institutions and individuals who have wronged not only him, but the rest of the planet. With visions of Donnie dancing in his head -- not to mention a frequently mentioned mass grave of Ethiopian villagers who had to be removed to clear the way for a pipeline -- Swagger devises one ferocious orchestration after another, such that the film is a series of battles, like a musical is a series of dances or a porn movie is a series of sex scenes, with dialogue in between.

Such dialogue is most effectively integrated when it concerns Swagger and Nick's mutual weapons know-how (they make napalm and assorted pipe bombs from merchandise found at a hardware store) and disparagement of Big Bad Government. A visit to Mr. Rate (Levon Helm) -- located in Tennessee, which Swagger calls "the patron state of shootin' stuff" -- provides discussion of "paper patching" (an old-fashioned and apparently still effective way of disguising bullets' signatures) as well as some acute joking about the film's favorite target: "They also said artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in Iraq, and Anna Nicole married for love" declares Swagger. Yeah, yeah, yeah: but for all the topical snark provided by Shooter, Swagger's most profound reason for what he does is personal. As he puts it so earnestly and categorically: "These boys killed my dog."





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.