Hollywood has been churning out stories of simple men who become extraordinary when thrust into pressure situations. Generally, the government will train them (think Jason Bourne in “The Bourne Identity,” Sylvester Stallone in “First Blood” or Keenan Ivory Wayans in “Most Wanted”) and then betray them, setting them off like “weapons of mass destruction.”
The latest film in the genre is “Shooter,” directed with an increased sense of urgency by Antoine Fuqua. At the film’s outset, Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is on a mission with his partner in the hills of some unnamed foreign country. Swagger establishes his credentials quickly by taking out several targets from very long range. Suddenly, the mission goes wrong, and he and his partner are left behind enemy lines, where his partner is mortally wounded.
Fast forward three years later and Swagger is holed away on his ranch far away from civilization when a delegation of government officials, led by the mysterious Col. Johnson (Danny Glover) come calling. They apparently have uncovered a plot to assassinate the president and need Swagger’s help to stop it. Initially, Swagger is reluctant, only to be swayed by Johnson’s argument “to protect America from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
While Swagger agrees to help his country, covert meetings show political powerbrokers with other plans. They need a fall guy, and Swagger fits the bill. Soon, he is W.W.A. (Whiteman with Attitude), framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Swagger is intent on clearing his name and teams with disgraced FBI agent, Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) and his late partner’s fiancée, Sara (Kate Mara). One by one, Swagger serves his own brand of justice; one man, one rifle and a whole lot of determination.
While the motivation to produce these stories is understood, one has to question the common sense of the government officials in these stories. The question that begs to be asked is, “If you’ve trained a soldier to kill the enemy, why do you think he wouldn’t turn those special-killing skills on you if you betrayed him?
Fuqua, who has directed high-tension dramas such as “Training Day” and “Tears of the Sun,” has produced an “intelligent action movie,” with a believable lead performance from Wahlberg. With so much news about the war in Iraq and many Americans not agreeing with the policies coming out of Washington, the film’s relevancy is current. Such films, which bridge the gap between Hollywood and Washington’s inner-circle, feeds public paranoia about our government.
Fuqua’s film is equally entertaining and thought-provoking. Where many films in this genre are just talking loud and saying nothing, this strong pre-summer entry, Shooter, promises to blow away the opening-week competition.