Shooter, by Albert W. Vogt III

Comment below if I have told the story about the five days I unofficially spent in the military, and I will apologize for repetitiveness.  I am getting to the point with my reviews that I sometimes need to look up films to see whether or not Cameron or I have covered them.  At any rate, I say “unofficially” because I never took the oath to join the armed forces.  After high school, I received a scholarship to attend the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama.  As a seventeen-year-old knucklehead, I did not fully understand what I was about to undertake.  Growing up as I did with a healthy dose of Napoleonic history, I erroneously thought that officers in training such as myself would be treated with a little more dignity.  This was proven false within the first fifteen minutes of being on campus, and I made up my mind just as quickly that I did not want to attend the school.  Unfortunately, they could not send me home right away, and I had to spend the next few days learning how to turn my pants into flotation devices and waking up at 4:30 am to the “sweet sounds” of Metallica.  As I got older, I better understood what it was they were trying to accomplish, but at the time it seemed like a bunch of nonsense.  In any case, I will never be anything like Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) in today’s film, Shooter (2007).

We meet our hero, Swagger, in Shooter as a Marine Scout Sniper.  He and his spotter, Donnie Fenn (Lane Garrison), are perched atop a cliff in the Horn of Africa overlooking a road.  A group of American soldiers are coming down it, and Swagger and Fenn’s job is to cover their retreat.  In the process, Fenn, Swagger’s close friend, is killed and Swagger is left to get out of the country on his own.  Three years later, Swagger, now retired and living in the mountains of Montana, is approached by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) for a special mission.  Swagger is hesitant, not appreciating the fact that he had been left for dead, which resulted in his partner’s death.  What lures him back in is Colonel Johnson’s citing of Swagger’s stellar sniper record and the former Marine’s patriotism.  He is called upon to scout locations for a planned assassination that American intelligence believes will happen on United States’ soil.  The information Swagger provides is supposed to help prevent it.  Unfortunately, it proves to be what Colonel Johnson and his men need to execute the murder of Ethiopian Archbishop Desmond Mutumbo (Dean McKenzie), who is on a speaking tour with the president. The act takes place in Philadelphia, and Swagger is meant to be the patsy.  Unfortunately for Colonel Johnson, though severely wounded, Swagger manages to get away.  In the process, he has a brief exchange with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), where he claims that he did not shoot the president and that the whole thing is a set-up.  When Agent Memphis gets to the office, his superiors are not pleased with the fact that he let an accused assassin escape.  Regardless, Swagger’s words set in motion a private investigation by Agent Memphis in order to make sense of this increasingly mysterious case.  Meanwhile, a wounded Swagger is able to make it to the Kentucky home of Fenn’s ex-wife, Sarah (Kate Mara), the only person he can think of who might believe his story.  It is there that he learns that Archbishop Mutumbo was the target, and he now sees an even bigger conspiracy.  She also agrees to help treat his wounds, though it is only a matter of time before Colonel Johnson and his cronies discover his location.  In order to try and begin to get to the bottom of the matter, Swagger manages to locate Agent Memphis, and saves the member of the FBI before Colonel Johnson’s men can kill him.  This makes Agent Memphis partners with Swagger.  In order to deal with Swagger, Colonel Johnson sets a trap on a Virginia estate with the person who had actually pulled the trigger, Mikhayo Sczerbiak (Rade Sherbedgia).  Because Swagger is a highly trained soldier, he and Agent Memphis are able to turn the tables on Colonel Johnson’s mercenaries, and discover the real reason for the plot.  Apparently, Archbishop Mutumbo had been about to speak out against atrocities committed by Colonel Johnson’s men in helping to get an oil pipe line built, which had resulted in the slaughter of entire villages.  Sczerbiak reveals all these things, and the fact that Colonel Johnson has taken Sarah hostage, all of which Swagger records.  To get Sarah back, Swagger contacts Colonel Johnson to arrange a meeting, along with his handler, Senator Charles F. Meachum (Ned Beatty).  Meanwhile, Agent Memphis calls on the FBI to come as well, but they do not get to the arranged location until after Sarah is let go, the recording destroyed, and Colonel Johnson and Senator Meachum leave.  With Swagger now in custody, Agent Memphis secures an appointment for Swagger with Attorney General Russert (Brian Markinson) when, with Colonel Johnson in attendance, he is able to prove that he did not shoot Archbishop Mutumbo.  They then present evidence of Colonel Johnson’s heinous acts in Africa, but it is not enough to detain him.  Attorney General Russert does not like what happened, but tells Swagger that something the only way to deliver justice is with a gun.  And that is exactly what he does, finding Colonel Johnson and Senator Meachum together in a mountain estate, and killing both of them.  Justice served, he and Sarah ride off into the sunset.

Shooter is not a terribly complicated movie.  Swagger wants to clear his name, but he frames it as a revenge story because Colonel Johnson’s men kill his dog.  In other reviews, I have mentioned how getting even is not the Catholic way, though when it comes to messing with somebody’s pet, even I would be tempted to take extreme measures.  Instead, what I would like to focus on for the Catholic part of this review is the religious ephemera used in different parts of the film.  One thing you can notice, if you know what you are looking for, is the fact that the shooting of Archbishop Mutumbo is fired from the steeple of a Catholic church.  Movies often choose Catholic places of worship because they so abundantly proclaim their Christian affiliation.  Though modern churches have somewhat toned down the décor, those built in many major cities across the United States belong to an era when stained glass and statues ruled the architecture.  There is also Archbishop Mutumbo to consider.  Though you can debate whether or not his character is meant to be a direct reference to real life African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who is actually Anglican, the movie version is certain dressed like a Catholic one.  Whether the makers of the movie would acknowledge it or not, for many years the Church has had a pretty good record of speaking out against some of the awful things that have taken place on the continent.  If you have the time, take a look at the website for the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Kilimanjaro.  You will see a vibrant community that is sending missionaries out into the world.  My own parish has a small convent for them.  These things have much to do with the plot of the film, but they come to mind when I watch it.

I suppose there is something to say about how Shooter presents a character committed to do the right thing, albeit in a violent and rather un-Christian way.  At the same time, it is no different from most other films of its ilk.  At least the good guys win, and the bad guys lose.  That is always going to get a thumbs up from yours truly.  Neither is its lack of originality meant to be a criticism, or take away from my enjoyment of it.  For a film that clocks in at over two hours, it moves along at a nice pace.  It is not a film for everyone, but it is a solid one nonetheless.

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