Sniper 3 (2004)

In Sniper 3, Tom Berenger returns as the infallible U.S. Marine sniper Thomas Beckett. In his two previous outings, Beckett traveled to Latin American and Eastern European trouble spots to eliminate nefarious targets. Always making impossible shots, Becket enacted the sniper credo of “one shot, one kill,” rarely feeling guilt, as he rationalized his killing. His beloved Marine Corps blessed his covert operations, though Beckett often insulted high-ranking officers who dared to interfere with his missions.

Recently released as a straight-to-video barebones DVD, Sniper 3 is much like 1 and 2, except that Beckett has gone through major changes. Though still possessed of his exceptional shooting abilities, he’s now a severely overweight alcoholic, in the first stages of palsy. These medical conditions take their toll, as his hands shake when he is under severe stress. This on top of his shooting with his middle finger, the result of losing his index finger to brutal torture in Sniper.

To accommodate Beckett’s declining health, not to mention Berenger’s bulging body, Sniper 3 focuses on melodrama rather than action and pyrotechnics. As the movie begins, Beckett and another sniper are in a jungle, preparing to kill some evildoer. When their covert operation is compromised, things go hairy and their superior orders them to withdraw. However, Beckett disobeys and makes his shot, completing the mission. A minute later, it is revealed that this was just an elaborated exercise inside a complex virtual simulation. When Beckett is severely reprimanded by his young superior, he tries to explain: “Well, I completed my mission. Back in my days…” but the superior interrupts him, “Fuck your days!”

As this kid apparently doesn’t know, Beckett subscribes to noble, nearly extinct school of military thought that values self-sacrifice and dedication. By contrast, younger soldiers are more concerned with expensive gadgets and rules of engagement aimed at avoiding casualties. Disappointingly, the film doesn’t explore this generation gap or allow either side complexity; instead, Beckett is the moral center and youngsters repeatedly look immature, irresponsible or disrespectful.

The prominence of the old generation is further highlighted when Beckett arrives late to the wedding of the son of his deceased buddy, Finnegan (John Doman). Beckett reads a letter written by Finnegan shortly before his death in Vietnam, and explains how he promised his pal to read it at exactly this moment. As Finnegan once saved his life, Beckett has been taking care of Mrs. Finnegan, Sydney (Jannetta Arnette), and his son Neil (Ken Streutker), for the past three decades. This hasn’t been easy for Beckett, given his demanding work and secret attraction to Sydney.

Whatever his personal troubles, Beckett’s professional priorities don’t waver, as when the head of the National Security Agency, William Avery (Denis Arndt), recruits him for a secret mission in Vietnam. At this point, Sniper 3 presents Avery as a wise patriarchal figure for Beckett, who remains, despite his aging, a “favorite son.” The mission involves Finnegan, who is — surprise — alive, going by the name of “King Cobra” and dealing drugs in Southeast Asia. With a nod to Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, he’s surrounded by an army of fierce kids who worship Finnegan as a mighty father figure (the father-son theme is by now quite apparent). To ensure lack of sympathy for this rogue agent, Finnegan is also helping terrorist organizations, quite the embarrassment for the U.S. military who trained him.

But have no fear: Beckett accepts his assignment. In Ho Chi Minh City, he encounters Quan (Byron Mann), his local NSA contact. Traveling together, amidst occasional gunfights, they too establish a father-son bond. Quan explains that his own father was an American soldier who abandoned him and his mother to return to the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975. When Quan gives his father’s sniper rifle to Beckett, it seems some kind of justice that he uses it in his attempt to kill Finnegan, as Beckett is not only following daddy Avery’s orders, but also punishing Finnegan for his bad parenting. Even more complicatedly, he hopes that killing Finnegan will exonerate him (Beckett) for failing to take good care of Finnegan’s son, Neil.

While Sniper 3 is certainly a derivative action film, it does create a complex web of problematic father-son relationships, featuring reckless and even treacherous paternal figures. And the next generation, even with their own deficiencies and tribulations, are compelled to correct their elders’ errors.