...a terrific hero performance by Mark Wahlberg


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            What’s the difference between fabricated violence and violence that violates the soul? And why is the first acceptable in movies and the latter intolerable? Isn’t it true that fictionalizing violence that can or does happen in real life diminishes both the abomination of the violence and the suffering of its victims? Brutalities by the powerful over the powerless rarely work in an entertainment medium unless made by a master.

            Not so for the fictitious, and “Shooter” is a fiction of special effects - an action thriller, pure and simple, that has been adapted for the screen from Stephen Hunter’s book with great skill and a guarantee of two hours of entertainment for the audience. It has a fine action premise, a terrific hero performance by Mark Wahlberg, and dazzling photography. It moves with the speed of light, the better to cover up the huge holes in the plot, but never mind; just follow the writers who simply blow past illogical impossibilities.

            Super sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) and his spotter are Special Forces agents on a mission in a place where Americans have no legitimate business – Ethiopia. Abandoned by their commanders when the going gets rough, the spotter is killed. The next scene finds Swagger in a cliché of a mountain cabin back in the U.S., a bitter recluse with a head full of information, intelligence, skills, and experience. It’s no hard task to recruit him from his isolation to lead an attempt to abort an assassination of the president of the U.S. Think frame-up, betrayal, great driving, nasty villains, vengeance, and imaginative fireballs. Usually these clichés are wasted in mediocre efforts but the photography here is so good that everything works.

            Why is Swagger the only one among us not to spot trouble early in the planning? Well, to be charitable, such things always work the same way: the top level conspirators know all; the second level, the sharply talented warriors who execute the plans, know only what they need to know to do their jobs.

            And then there’s the scenery: Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Ethiopia – all grand backdrops for the fireworks. Look for one decent FBI agent (Nick Memphis, nicely played by Michael Pena), the only guy in the whole movie who suspects foul play.

            After allusions to the Kennedy assassination, the war in Iraq, and corporate malfeasance, an unpleasant message lingers. “Nothing, no matter how horrible, happens without the approval of the government, here or there.” Suddenly we realize the fiction we have been watching is talking about today. Always, there is another corrupt man ready and eager to step into a vacancy at the highest levels of power and money.

            You will endure much heavy on-screen breathing – none of it sexual, all of it the heavy breath of fear. You can anticipate a grand finale and after it is over, you will know that you were present when Mark Wahlberg nailed down the title of this century’s first champion action hero.


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