First, let's get one thing straight: Mark Wahlberg's new thriller, Shooter, is full of shooting. Possibly more shooting than I've ever seen in a movie. So if that sort of thing bothers you, you'll probably want to skip the latest from director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day). But if you can put up with some oh-how-convenient plot twists and gratuitous cleavage and bulging-bicep shots, Shooter is a captivating, conspiracy-drenched action flick that's part Fugitive and part Bourne Identity, with lots of post-9/11 paranoia thrown in.
Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger, a top Marine sniper who leaves the force after the death of his spotter (aka, a sniper's very important partner) during a botched mission. He's living like a liberal Ted Nugent in the Wyoming mountains, hunting his food and reading The 9/11 Commission Report, when he's approached by some covert government types (led by Danny Glover) with a mission. It seems the government has received a presidential assassination threat involving sniper tactics, so the guys want Swagger to figure out how the crime would be committed in order to help prevent it.
Swagger accepts, only to discover that the whole scheme has been orchestrated to frame him for the assassination attempt that soon goes down. And that's just the first 25 minutes, so
Most of the movie has Swagger on the run from the Feds, frantically trying to unravel the conspiracy. As viewers, we are only slightly more well-informed then he is, as we follow the clues hatched by a seemingly hapless FBI agent (Michael Peña), who is rightfully suspicious about the whole case. Amid some serious sensory overload — relentless explosions, hyper-real color, and mind-blowing revelations — we follow Swagger's trail from the Kentucky home of his spotter's widow (Kate Mara) to the remote corners of Montana.
Like most action movies, this one is pretty ridiculous, but the conspiracy-comes-true plot and earnest performances make it incredibly gripping. Wahlberg's strong performance is as dutiful as his character's motivation, but it's so subdued that, sadly, Shooter isn't likely to establish Wahlberg as a leading man.
More notable are several of the supporting turns: Mara ("Nip/Tuck," We Are Marshall) pulls off a wonderful Southern accent, managing a performance far more subtle than the low-cut tops she dons in every scene. Also, Levon Helm (yes, the drummer/vocalist for The Band) has a scene-stealing cameo as a reclusive gun expert, while Ned Beatty shines as an obnoxious red-state senator.
Shooter is full of the usual action-movie tropes, but it's also scattered with enough surprises — sinister character twists, liberal agenda items, and oh-no-they-didn't shootouts — that it still manages to be delightfully unpredictable.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures