The Theory of Chaos

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Full review behind the jump


: Antoine Fuqua
: Jonathan Lemkin, based on the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter
: Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Ric Kidney
: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Peña, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra, Rade Serbedzija, Ned Beatty

They say that if you go far enough right on the political spectrum, you meet up with the far left. Extremism has a way of finding common cause with itself no matter the genesis.
Shooter, the adaptation of Pulitzer-winning author and critic Stephen Hunter’s page-turner Point of Impact, acts as the marriage-at-the-end-of-a-rifle-barrel for a couple of radically-disparate cultures. By pitting the long-time bogeyman of the left – shadowy petro-grabbing-military-industrialists – against a lone-wolf beers-and-bullets libertarian hero so fetishized you’d expect the late President Reagan to try campaigning with him, it’s like the hippies pacting with the NRA, the post-Watergate conspiracy cranks allying with the groups who used to send those catalogs to my father about How To Bury Your Weapons So The Government Won’t Find Them.

It also marries
The Fugitive with Blow-Out, which is a fine and sturdy recipe. Crisply-mounted and anchored by a lead performance from Mark Wahlberg, an actor growing increasingly comfortable with how to provide interest within the confines of big movie stardom, it provides a couple hours’ worth of escapist thrills; not to mention a jarring, sometimes appalling, mish-mash of tonal impulses that show American culture at a seriously self-examining crossroads. It’s like a cry of grief over the evil we were suckered into by people who exploit how we think things that blow up are cool, wrapped inside a movie that reminds us that things that blow up are cool.

Wahlberg plays the impeccably-named Bob Lee Swagger, a world-ranked sniper who has given in to disillusionment ever since he was abandoned for dead on a classified mission in Africa. He’s exiled himself to a mountaintop cabin, where he shoots at things and surfs the Internet for the latest government lies. It is a sign of Wahlberg’s star charisma that he makes this look like a sexy lifestyle.

But Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) knows something about people who were once true believers – they’re always willing to believe once more if you give them the chance. He seeks out Swagger for a unique mission – there’s a rumor an assassination attempt will be made on the President, and that the shot will come from beyond a mile. Swagger would know how to make a shot like that, which makes him the best man to scout ahead and design security to prevent it.

It’s all a ruse, of course – Swagger is being set up to take the blame as the assassin, but he survives their initial attempt to give him the Oswald/parking garage treatment and goes on the run. In the modern media age, taking a shot at the President doesn’t give you a lot of room to stay alive very long, much less the resources to figure out who framed you, how, and why; but Swagger is nothing if not a finisher.

This is what we go for, of course, to revel in seemingly-impossible marksmanship, learn how to get bomb-making materials at the home improvement store, and finally know the survivalist benefit of doing Whip-Its. Jonathan Lemkin’s screenplay dials Swagger’s resourcefulness up to larger-than-life levels, like Jack Bauer in one of the good seasons of 24, without crossing over into the ludicrously superhuman, like Jack Bauer in one of the bad seasons of 24. There’s little gadgetry, the spycraft is based on believable technology. When a lowly FBI agent (Michael Peña) tugs at a nagging thread in the official story and wants to learn more about rifle technology, he goes to an Internet café and logs into a chat room.

This agent, Nick Memphis, is essentially a co-lead in the picture, in a unique position to doubt the official story, not to mention the suspicious speed and perfection of the evidence convicting Swagger. Peña is a handsome, earnest actor who earned his stripes in Crash and alongside Nicolas Cage in the rubble of World Trade Center, and he brings a vital presence to what could have been a program role. We can see how these questions nag at him, even as he questions whether pride and professional embarrassment are biasing him.

Swagger also enlists the aid of Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara), sister to his late partner. Mara adds both comeliness and spunk to the picture, although convention inflates her role beyond the natural room in the narrative for her, and she’s eventually part of an unnecessarily squirmy bit of brutality. A couple of the movie’s plot impulses have the odor of post test-screening meddling to them, especially an absurd final scene that abandons strategy for block-headed slaughter – it’s like suddenly swapping out a chess game for Hungry Hungry Hippoes.

Director Antoine Fuqua has shown two trademarks since elevating into the upper-tier of action filmmakers with 2001’s Training Day. He emphasizes colorful, generous widescreen images, allowing the actors to exist within the space rather than hog real estate with their expensive faces. Filmed by Peter Menzies, Jr. (The General’s Daughter, Four Brothers. Shooter is never dull to look at. He also doesn’t skimp on supporting roles, seeking out gifted character actors who know how to find that extra layer within limited screen time. The busy Ned Beatty plays a comfortably corrupted Senator who keeps appearing at the periphery, and the always-dependable Elias Koteas finds the glimmer of authentic sadism in his role as one of Colonel Johnson’s posse. Even Levon Helm, former drummer for The Band, puts in a few devilish minutes as the backwoods equivalent to Ian McKellen’s paranoid hobbyist in The Da Vinci Code.

I think, if this is your cup of genre tea, that you’ll enjoy Shooter, though you may occasionally experience a kind of whiplash at the juncture points of the intrigue and violence. If movies can hold a cracked mirror up to society, you may find yourself reflecting on what this sort of story says about the times we’re living in. A movie that can both do that and get us giddy over homebrewed tear gas, in the final analysis, is worth consideration.


Post a Comment

<< Home