I spent a lot of time growing up learning to be a rifle marksman. I do not even want to think about how many thousands of bullets I fired or the countless hours of instruction and practice that I put into the sport of competition rifle shooting. Sadly, I never found the desire to take part in actual shooting competitions, but I've always taken pride in my ability to hit a dime from a football field away. With my background and love of precision shooting, the film "Shooter" just grabbed my attention and demanded that I watch it. Unfortunately, the shooting elements of the film are both inaccurate, poorly handled and a mockery of the actual art of being a sniper. To give the Mark Wahlberg film "Shooter" any shot at a decent review, I need to look at the film at being another polished and expensive action film starring the former singer who brought us "Good Vibrations."
You always chamber your round before you set your sights on your target. You then take a deep breath and during the slow release of your breath, you kill your target. It is that simple. So why is it that "Shooter" had the main character scope out a can of tomatoes at the range of one mile and then works the bolt and chamber the round of his fifty caliber bullet? That would have certainly thrown off every bit of aiming performed by the character. Maybe I'm looking into this scene a little too deeply, but it was not the only scene that screamed "Hogwash!" The next dirty deed was the main character sniping three bad guys with precision from a .22 caliber long rifle at roughly two hundred and fifty yards. This isn't an unfathomable distance for the tiny bullet to travel, but considering that the shooter was standing on a boat that was fluctuating with the movement of the water; I have trouble buying into this one as well.
Now that I've got my ranting about the unbelievability of the picture, it is time to take a look at the merits of the film itself. The technology was great stuff. I did enjoy seeing the M82 Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle on-screen and if I had the money, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. The .408 CheyTac was even more impressive, but I've never been able to see one in person or touch it. The M40 sniper rifle that was also used during the opening sequence of the film is a smaller caliber version of the same rifle I use for my own long distance shooting, the Remington 700. The military uses a .308 Winchester round. I prefer the larger and more potent Remington 7MM Magnum casing. A few other weapons were also seen during the running time of "Shooter," but the CheyTac and the Barrett were easily the coolest pieces of firearm hardware.
Beyond the guns and the precision shooting, "Shooter" is about a Marine Sniper, Gunny Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger (Wahlberg). He is on a secret mission in Africa, when his position is revealed and his spotter is killed. Swagger manages to escape and lives in seclusion in the remote mountains of the United States. He is asked to perform a mission by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover). The mission involves staging an assassination of the president to prevent such an act from taking place in either Baltimore, Washington D.C. or Philadelphia. Swagger scouts the locations and realizes that only Philly provides a good opportunity to assassinate the president. Johnson and his partner Jack Payne (Elias Koteas) ask Swagger to remain and help supervise the operation. However, it turns out that Johnson and Payne are behind the assassination attempt and try to pin the murder of an African dignitary and attempt on the president's life on Swagger.
During his escape, he comes across a young FBI agent, Nick Memphis (Michael Pena). Swagger tells Memphis that he was not the shooter and that a beat cop framed him. Pena is told by his superiors that Swagger lied, but he is knocked down to monitoring the telephones after Swagger stole his vehicle. With nowhere to run and almost nowhere to hide, Swagger turns to the widow of his friend and spotter. Sarah (Kate Mara) first attempts to turn Swagger in to the authorities, but she finds his story honest and decides to help him. Swagger enrolls the help of Memphis, who believes a conspiracy may be at foot and the three plot a way to bring Payne and Johnson down and clear his name.
There are many effective moments in "Shooter" that entertains and excites. Some of the shooter lingo and terminology was accurate and all of the elements that are involved in the ultra-long shots are correct. I've never been nearly that good and my abilities start to fall off sharply at five hundred yards. I've always respected and admired the military snipers and the film at least gives them credit for the amount of skill involved. It makes some mockery of the training by having Swagger train Memphis to be an effective sniper in a relatively short time, but that is just the third and final major complaint I have about the portrayal of actual shooting in the film. Wahlberg is a good action star and Pena is an up and coming actor that we will see for decades to come. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing both Koteas and Glover in the film. Both are fine and underused actors. As far as being an entertaining action film, "Shooter" is not too bad. If you are expecting to sit down and watch a movie with lots of sniping, then you will be somewhat disappointed. As I was.
"Shooter" is a good looking film. It looked great on standard definition DVD and is improved for the high definition Blu-ray format. The AVC MPEG-4 mastered 2.35: 1 aspect film features strong and deep details throughout its length and natural and vivid coloring. The film features a few outdoorsy visuals that show the beauty that still remains in our great nation. The mountains and farmlands seen during a few pivotal scenes were very nicely done and beautifully rendered by this Blu-ray release. Another visually impressive scene is the napalm explosion contained during the third act of the film. This scene shows the color capabilities of the transfer and also provides some of the more impressive visuals of the film. When vibrant oranges and lush greens are not on-screen and darkness falls, the black levels and shadow detail are just as strong. My only minor complaint is one or two instances during the darker moments when a little detail was lost, but it was not overly bothersome. The source materials used for the film were clean and without any noticeable flaws. I had noticed a few minor instances of posterization while watching the standard definition version of "Shooter," but they were not as noticeable with the higher bandwidth allotted by the Blu-ray format.
The Blu-ray release of "Shooter" contains an English Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel surround mix, as well as accompanying French and Spanish tracks. This is the same lineup as the DVD release, but the mixes contained here have a little more oomph and depth to them. At least the English track does, I didn't spend any time listening to the foreign language tracks. "Shooter" is a solid sounding film, but underwhelming when compared to the legions of other action films. The film does provide a few very nice moments, especially the opening moments that takes place in Africa and then Swagger's raid on the two farmhouses at different moments in the film. "Shooter" is a dialogue based film and the clean and intelligible dialogue takes center stage, but when the action heats up there is a few nice effects to be heard. A few gunshots in "Shooter" sounded great and were far more realistic on the high definition format that what was heard on the DVD release. Mark Mancina's soundtrack could be heard in all 5.1 channels and was nicely rendered by the soundtrack, with purposeful bass and effective usage of the rear surrounds. The surrounds themselves are used throughout the picture and often used to effectively create atmosphere, such as when a sniper's bullet travels through the air.
"Shooter" is not billed as a special feature, but the disc does contain a number of nice supplements. The Blu-ray release features all of the value added content in high definition video. The first and most important feature is the Commentary by Director Antoine Fuqua. The director speaks about his experiences making the film, provides background and information pertaining to the sniping elements in the film and also draws parallel's to his previous effort, "Training Day." Fuqua does sit back a couple times to enjoy his film, but he does get into the topics of "Shadow Military" and a few other fascination topics that makes this commentary a little more than being a simply play-by-play of the film. This track was definitely worth listening to.
After the very good commentary, there are a few stand-alone supplements. The somewhat lengthy Survival of the Fittest: The Making of Shooter (21:49) is your typical EPK featurette. There is music. There are scenes from the film and there are lots of moments with those involved in delivering the picture to the big screen. The author of the book Point of Impact in which the story is based, Stephen Hunter, provides background on the story during the film. This added some nice back information on snipers that made the feature worth sitting down with. Independence Hall (7:20) was a vignette that looked at the scene that takes place at Independence Hall and has a military advisor giving a breakdown of the shot a sniper would have. The seven Deleted Scenes (11:50) spends a lot of time fleshing out the Nick Memphis character, but also adding information that was heard of during the film, but not seen. A few Previews complete the offerings.
I originally had a lot of interest in watching "Shooter" because of its focus on a Marine sniper and the fact I saw a fifty caliber Barrett in the trailer. The hardware was cool and some of the information on shooting was accurate, but it didn't seem like a lot of attention to detail was made during a few scenes. The action was still good and both Wahlberg and Pena were good in their roles. Veterans Danny Glover, Elias Koteas and Ned Beatty were nice additions to the cast. Kate Mara is a lovely young lady and her inclusion was an added bonus. Although I was not blown away by the film and I felt some degree of disappointment, I was entertained. The Blu-ray release is a definite upgrade over the standard definition release and features improved sight and sound. The film didn't have near the energy in soundtrack and a few visual flaws were present on DVD, but this is a livelier sounding release and more detailed and cleaner in visuals. The supplements are the same, but are now mastered in high definition. This is definitely a better way to enjoy the film.