A combination of familiar action film tropes and post-9/11 political paranoia, Shooter hits the ground running, and never lets up steam. It's got a plot that's beyond belief, but who really cares when things are this mindlessly entertaining?
Director Antoine Fuqua's film opens in Ethiopia, where a covert operation involving Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger (a terse and supremely buff Mark Wahlberg) ends in betrayal and disgrace. Cut to three years later—Swagger is living alone in some Rocky Mountain retreat when a bunch of secretive government types led by Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover, gloriously odious) come to him with a proposal. They have intercepted intel claiming there will be an attempt on the President's life during a tour of three Eastern cities, and this will be made by a sniper shooting from a mile away. Since Swagger is the only guy around with experience in this kind of firepower, the government types ask him to think like the sniper, check out the Presidential routes, and tell them the most likely spot where the hit will take place.
So he does. But Swagger's help turns into another betrayal, and sooner than you can say "scapegoat," Our Hero is on the run from every law-enforcement agency imaginable, accused of an attempt on the Commander in Chief's life. Along the way, however, he manages to convince two key people of his innocence: the widow (Kate Mara) of his late Marine partner, and a tyro FBI agent (Michael Peña) who helps Swagger track down a conspiracy that leads to the centers
of government power.
Shooter's one-man-versus-the-establishment plotline certainly isn't new, nor is its anti-government cynicism. In fact, the film plays like a very extended episode of "24," with more deaths and explosions than you'll see in a full season of the hit TV show. And in Wahlberg, the movie has a dour lead character who's even more put-upon—tortured, hounded, chased,
scorned—than our boy Jack Bauer.
In other words, what's not to like? With a gaggle of villains that includes a covert operative (Glover), U.S. Senator (Ned Beatty) and Slavic hitman (Rade Sherbedgia), Shooter covers almost all the currently fashionable bases. (The only thing missing is an Arab terrorist.) It feeds into the audience's latent distrust of authority, ratchets up its paranoia and is totally behind the John Wayne-like hero. Whether Fuqua's film is actually good is almost beside the point. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do—entertain while playing to everyone's most basic fears. American big-studio filmmaking. Ya gotta love it.