Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Mark Wahlberg……….Bob Lee Swagger
Michael PeÃ±a……….Nick Memphis
Danny Glover……….Colonel Isaac Johnson
Kate Mara………. Sarah Fenn
Ned Beatty………. Senator Charles F. Meachum
From its trailer alone, it seems, Shooter looks like it should’ve been released in 1987 as opposed to 2007. Featuring recent Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg as a man falsely accused of an attack on the President, Wahlberg stars as decorated Marine sniper and falsely accused Bobby Lee Swagger. Framed for the attack, Swagger has to find out who is framing him and why. Leaving an impressive body count behind, Swagger outsmarts and outfights everyone in his path in a way that would leave Sylvester Stallone envious.
And the film certainly has all the makings of a throwback to the golden age of action movies. It has 80s star Danny Glover as its chief villain, for starters, and like any action film from that era a great director who hasn’t quite established himself yet is at the helm in Antoine Fuqua. Throw in a cast of recognizable character actors and an actress (Kate Mara) who is on the rise and one has the ingredients of plenty of films in the era before Die Hard changed it all.
So Bobby Lee Swagger seems like an odd-fit in the pantheon of the modern era day hero of action thriller films from the start. And for a modern action hero, he’s definitely in an era long past him by. Wahlberg makes him likeable and agreeable, as the recent Oscar nominee does a good job with what he’s given, but Swagger isn’t the kind of hero that fits in this era. Swagger would’ve been a better fit in the 1980s, when rebelling against crooked government officials wasn’t as clichÃ©d as it is now. Wahlberg does a good job making the character someone we care about, as his discussions of the art of shooting someone from a considerable distance are fascinating on a certain level, but the character itself is a stranger in this era. The director, however, is not a stranger to the genre.
Fuqua directed Chow-Yun Fat’s major American Debut The Replacement Killers, the crime thriller Training Day as well as the highly under-rated Bruce Willis vehicle Tears of the Sun, Fuqua has developed a reputation as a director. He can put together 60-80 minutes of pure brilliance meshed with another 20-30 of mediocrity, leaving potentially brilliant films as merely good to great. He has trouble putting together one part of the three act play that a film is. Shooter is his next shot at putting it all together, but history says otherwise. And after nearly two hours of Swagger’s violent retribution, Fuqua’s signature story-telling manner and lack of a quality editor are readily apparent.
Shooter has all the hallmarks of Fuqua’s directorial style. Avoiding the sort of shaking camera effect that has become a trend, Fuqua goes more for long arching shots and steadicam work to showcase his action sequences. Well put together and absorbing, the film is much more of an action vehicle than the dramatic one it might’ve been under a different director. Fuqua has shown a deft touch in how he handles action; it’s just the setup to it that isn’t up to par to what he does when he gets into the heart of the story.
It’s not just one particular part Fuqua struggles with, unlike many directors who consistently aren’t good at certain aspects of the story-telling process. Tears of the Sun suffered from a slow first act as its introduction weighed down the amazing back 2/3 he set up. King Arthur got boring quickly in the middle, sandwiched between two inspired first and final acts. Training Day was a phenomenal movie until the finale turned out to be an action movie clichÃ© chase sequence. This time around Fuqua doesn’t do a good job of developing the setup, much like with Tears of the Sun. Running a bit long in the tooth, he gets around to turning the focus onto the assassination plot much slower than the film’s final 2/3 dictate. Once he gets the film going it becomes much more engrossing and entertaining. The film’s slow and deliberate pace accelerates quickly once the action starts and goes full throttle for the rest of the film. It’s a jolt that exposes how meandering the setup of Shooter is; Fuqua uses more exposition than is necessary to develop the basics and can’t seem to get to the point early on.
A top notch thriller can maintain the same pace from beginning to end and keep the viewer hooked; by that standard, Shooter remains merely a good one. As soon as Fuqua gets to the action sequences, Shooter becomes a much more entertaining film. With some great-looking sniper shot sequences, it’s not a waste of time and effort to view, but ultimately it’s another film from Fuqua that shows that he telling a complete and gripping story for nearly two hours is still beyond his capabilities.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):