Shooter – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Antoine Fuqua

Cast:

Mark Wahlberg .Bob Lee Swagger
Michael Pena .Nick Memphis
Kate Mara .Sarah Fenn
Danny Glover .Col. Isaac Johnson
Elias Koteas .Jack Payne
Ned Beatty .Sen. Charles F. Meachum
Rade Serbedgja .Michael Sandor

Paramount Pictures presents Shooter. Running time: 124 minutes. Based upon the novel “Point of Impact” by Stephen Hunter. Screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin. Rated R (for strong graphic violence and some language). Available on DVD: June 26, 2007.


The Movie

The art of adaptation varies from person to person. There are some who believe screenwriters should remain as faithful to the source material as possible. Then there are those (the viewers) who can swallow their frustration and accept the final product for what it’s worth: It’s somebody’s interpretation, but an interpretation not unlike your own. Now, what if you knew that the author of Point of Impact (a.k.a. Shooter), Stephen Hunter, is himself a film critic. Would he take a film adaptation of his work in stride, or shake his head in bewilderment, then grab a pen and paper and do a little review?

As a rule, film critics should stay away from comparing and contrasting best-selling works of fiction to the silver-screen version. I myself made the mistake of reading Point of Impact after having seen Mark Wahlberg play country bumpkin Bob Lee Swagger. So I may have to bend that rule.

Except for a few character names and locations, the story has undergone a major overhaul. Which is to be expected, having to condense a 500-plus-page novel into a two-hour feature. Antoine Fuqua’s film brings Hunter’s book to a more contemporary setting. Instead of Bob Lee Swagger being a former U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant, born and raised in Arkansas, and serving three tours of duty in Vietnam, he is fighting in Ethiopia, engaged in modern warfare.

Flash forward to thirty-six months after a deadly firefight with enemy combatants left his sniper team spotter dead. Retired a disgraced Marine, Swagger still maintains his gung-ho mentality, but is more attuned to not believe whatever his government is shoveling. His sentiments could easily echo that of what is happening today — the war in Iraq, Immigration Reform, etc.

In the traditional sense he is a product of his environment. His country taught him how to kill professionally. But when you are no longer of any use to your country, as far as enlisted service is concerned, where do you turn? Covert Scout Sniper is not the type of job qualification you can put on just any resume. So Swagger lives in seclusion in the mountains of Wyoming with a faithful companion — a dog — and more than a few rifles and ammunitions. Even though he left the service in a not-so-great fashion, Swagger’s ability to shoot targets at unfathomable distances is sought by an interested party. One Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover). Swagger is not asked to shoot, but rather construct a hypothetical presidential assassination (i.e., suitable locations — taking into consideration velocity, time of day and weather patterns). Ah, but when a colonel shows up at your house with nary a communiqué, don’t be optimistic and think good things lie ahead.

Not long after Swagger finds a primo piece of sniper real estate, he himself is framed for murder and, in less the time than it takes to pull a trigger, is now the most wanted man in America.

With such a set-up Shooter could have either been an intellectual thriller in which Bob Lee Swagger uses his sniper smarts to outwit and outthink those who did him wrong, or an old-school, “shoot first and let the coroners sort them out” type of actioner. The problem is that it tries to be both. While certain thrillers have found success with smart hero types like Jason Bourne, Bob Lee’s characterizations are as diluted as a shot of vodka. Whereas in Point of Impact Bob Lee is more of a thinking man’s hero with a southerner’s responsiveness, he loses a step or two making the leap to the silver screen.

Mark Wahlberg is strong in the role of Bob Lee Swagger, but the rest of the cast is mismanaged. This is especially true of Michael Pena’s Nick Memphis, a still wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent, three weeks removed from his training in Quantico. (In the novel, Memphis is a veteran FBI sniper who, having made a costly mistake during a hostage situation, is still trying to find suitable footing with the Bureau.)

Despite inconsistencies and liberties taken by screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin — one of the masterminds behind Red Planet and Lethal Weapon 4 — this really isn’t his action vehicle; it’s Antoine Fuqua’s. The man knows who to photograph action sequences this much is true. From set pieces involving King Arthur and his Knights (King Arthur) to the jungles of Nigeria (Tears of the Sun), Fuqua is well versed in action involving various armaments. And while the action in Stephen Hunter’s novel varies in both its depiction and its placement in the story, with the movie we get badass ferocity in a more compact package. Which is always nice.

More popcorn fodder than a subtle attempt at denunciating our current state of world affairs, Shooter is Shangri-La for die-hard Second Amendment supporters. The movie is mish-mash of different action heroes; think Jason Bourne meets Thomas Beckett (Tom Berenger’s character in Sniper). It may not be a cinematic piece of art, but as far as shoot em ups go, some may not be able get enough of this big budget cheese-fest.


The DVD

THE VIDEO
(Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen)

Shooter has a stunning widescreen transfer. Shots to the head and other extremities, you can see every detail: muzzle flash, powder residue, and debris. Colors are vivid, and the blacks are dead on. Maybe a few hints at edge enhancement, but they are minor and do prove to be a distraction in the least.

THE AUDIO
(English, French and Spanish — Dolby Digital 5.1)

For a movie in which one of the primary actions involves shooting, no way Paramount would stiff its listeners of the sweet sound of the rat-a-tat-tat of bullets fired. Shooter gets plenty of punch when needed (which is more often than not) and stupid one-liners and dialogue are clearly audible. Besides three DD 5.1 tracks, there are optional English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES

While not a big blockbuster at theaters, Shooter arrives to DVD with a good assortment of extras. Director Antoine Fuqua lends his voice as he sits down to deliver an informative, albeit understated, commentary. He guides the listener by the hand telling us about the visual effects to how he tried to keep the action as real as possible. The commentary is good, but while listening to him talk over the assassination and the huge firefight in the third act, I expected more.

Now, had he had the film’s Military Technical Advisor, Patrick Garrity, with him, then the commentary would have been that much more of a good listen.

Garrity is one of the big contributors to the featurette titled Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter. This 21-minute piece is mostly fluff, but to hear Garrity speak and to see footage of Mark Wahlberg engaged in a mini-Sniper boot camp, well it more than makes up for all the glad-handing. Those unfamiliar with the types of rifles and equipment a Marine uses in combat will get a crash course. Of particular interest is learning about Gilly suits and how their designs are valuable in open area covert scouting and sniping.

Independence Hall plays like a seven-minute promo piece for the Philadelphia tourist destination, because Garrity’s appearance in discussing the choice of using the attraction as the backdrop of the film’s assassination is brief. Instead, we mostly get a quick school lesson about the Liberty Bell, the Assembly Room and the Continental Congress.

The seven deleted scenes included do not come with optional commentary, but if you watch the movie first, you can pretty much understand why they were excised from the final cut. Most feature Bob Lee Swagger and Nick Memphis in secluded or closed quarters — at a river, in a SUV, in a motel room. They are supposed to drive home Swagger’s patriotism, as if we needed any more clues. There are two good scenes that could have made it into the film: “Sarah and Swagger Discuss Conspiracy” and the “Extended Shopping Scene” with Swagger and Memphis shopping for hunting supplies. In the film, the scene is abrupt, with us wondering why they are shopping in different parts of the same store. Here, we get a better idea as to why.

Trailers for Zodiac and Black Snake Moan round out the bonus features.

THE INSIDE PULSE

If I were to sell somebody as to whether or not rent this movie on DVD, I’d say “rent it for the popcorn, stay for the conspiracy.” Shooter is an okay action movie, but even with a great big action set piece — two men versus dozens of mercenaries — I long for the return of Predator and Rambo. Even with the cheesiness of it all, Mark Wahlberg is a credible action star and shows that he has the cojones to shoot fast and move faster.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Shooter
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

5.5
THE VIDEO

9
THE AUDIO

8.5
THE EXTRAS

5
REPLAY VALUE

5
OVERALL
5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)