Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg in the title role, wants to be one of the Bourne series, but it winds up being a fairly ordinary action flick. As the name implies, it's a film about shooting, as well as knifing, strangling, pipe bombing, and burning. (Yes, it's rated "R"¯ for violence and language.) A political subtext runs throughout: the by-now-usual "politics is rotten, you can't trust anyone, the government is run by conspirators"¯ theme. But the movie is scarcely what you might call subtle, and its young male target audience will get to see blood and death aplenty.
That said, the film is fairly well-made, of its kind. That it derives from a novel written by a film critic (Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post) probably tells you all you need to know about the structure. The plot is one we have seen before, numerous times, and the characters and actions it involves are also familiar.
Military sharpshooter Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg) watches his buddy get shot when their command gives them up during-- it later develops-- an illegal mission in Ethiopia.
Fast forward three years. Swagger is living alone with his dog and his guns in the Wyoming mountains. To him comes Col. Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), whom we have earlier seen in Langley, VA (home of the CIA, hint, hint). When Johnson's swarthy henchman (Elias Koteas) threatens to shoot the dog, the audience all but yells, "Just say no!"¯ But Swagger, patriot that he still is, accepts their offer: they want him to plan"”but not execute"”an assassination attempt on the President of the United States.
Now, as someone trained in counterintelligence, Swagger might just have sniffed out a rat. But then, of course, there's no movie left, so off to the decadent East Coast he goes. Naturally, it's a set up, with Swagger taking the fall in what looks like a botched assassination attempt, one resulting in the killing of an Ethiopian archbishop. Swagger makes his getaway, contacts his late buddy's girlfriend (Kate Mara), and begins his revenge, aided only by a rookie FBI agent (Michael Pena) who has figured out that Things Are Not What They Seem. Given the clues to that effect which his boss and the rest ignore, our confidence in the Feds is hardly reinforced.
From then on, it's essentially one shooting atop another, broken by short intervals of plot development to allow the characters to move to a new location and to give a little screen time to Ned Beatty as a corrupt senator. Director Antoine Fuqua provides three or so endings for us to choose from before the hero and his new gal ride off into the sunset, presumably to swagger (sorry I resisted as long as I could) back on for a sequel. (There are two more Swagger novels out and another due out in September.) He may not be bourne-again (sorry, again), but those who like action flicks will probably be pleased to see him re-emerge. Those who don't can skip this one, too.