As a skilled U.S. Marine Scount Sniper, Gunnery Sgt. Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is used to operating without a lot of cover, frequently invading hostile territory with nothing more than his weapon, a trained spotter, and a radio link to Ops HQ. But his final mission in uniform left him entirely exposed, his spotter dead, the HQ packed up, and no hope for recovery. He escaped anyway, retired from the Corps, and left for Wyoming's high country, eking out an isolated existence with little more than a collection of rifles and a trustworthy dog. But when Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) arrives on Swagger's front porch, everything changes. Johnson has information that a plot to assassinate the president is expected to occur in the next two weeks, in one of three cities, and he needs Swagger to "plan" his own assassination so that the government can evaluate and counter the threat. After some resistance, Swagger agrees, and he quickly determines that Philadelphia will be the city, where the president will speak in front of Independence Hall and a skilled sniper could strike, albeit from as much as a mile away. Johnson invites Swagger to join the counter-intelligence effort as a spotter, but when a visiting dignitary is taken down by a sniper's bullet, Swagger quickly realizes that he's a target as well, forcing him to flee a clever, audacious frame-up. On the run, he manages to steal a car from FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), eventually hiding in Kentucky with the girlfriend of his dead spotter, Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara). Memphis is facing official disgrace for losing his car, but he's convinced that there's more to the case than meets the eye. Meanwhile, Swagger patches himself up and starts making a whole new set of plans.
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Shooter (2007) is the sort of conspiracy-thriller that with half the budget and a less detailed script could easily wind up in a straight-to-video development deal with Steven Seagal as the lead. However, it also proves that fine craftsmanship and quality actors can elevate just about anything beyond the B-film material on the page. Screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (adapting the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter) balances the stock elements of the genre the loner hero, the dark conspiracy, the frame-up with plenty of technical jargon and details on the very delicate business of killing from long range. Bob Lee Swagger isn't a soulless killing machine, nor is he a front-line combat solider. Instead, he effectively represents the sniper's role in a military operation the brooding, solitary intellectual who can gauge windage and humidity from a mile out; a man who understands trigonometry and Coriolis force, and who can sit out impossibly tense circumstances with superhuman patience. The script does telegraph a few elements early on, such as when Swagger's spotter displays a picture of his girlfriend two minutes into the movie (never a good sign), or how Col. Johnson's sidekicks are so unmistakably sinister. But director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) brings a polish to the entire affair, with the narrative covering a variety of locations and landscapes. Strong sequences include Swagger's inventive, resourceful escape from Philadelphia (shot and bleeding in a stolen FBI car) as well as a later shootout with mercenaries on a Tennessee farm. The cast is likewise appealing, in particular Wahlberg, who has proven that he can work with top-line directors (The Departed) and star in his own marquee projects with genuine movie-star charisma. In fact, one is tempted to think that Shooter would make a good series for him, just as The Bourne Identity bolstered Matt Damon's filmography. It's not every actor who can effectively portray a real-life, government-trained superhero, and Bourne and Swagger are cut from the same cloth, steeped in tradecraft and driven by revenge of the most personal sort. "I don't think you understand," Swagger tells Memphis when they reach the point of no return and must face the conspirators head-on. "These boys killed my dog."
Paramount's DVD release of Shooter offers a splendid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary track with director Antoine Fuqua, the featurettes "Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter" (21 min.), "Independence Hall" (7 min.), and seven deleted scenes. Keep-case.