Friday, 30 March 2007

Shooter (2007)

Mark Wahlberg is Rambo!

The 80s had the US stuck in a quagmire of Vietnam. Now, the US is stuck in an eternal occupation of Iraq. In the 80s, we had John Rambo, an elite soldier who, since a mission went wrong in Saigon, retired into civilian life. However corrupt officials trying to drive away the drifter provoke the soldier to wage war on his own government. Now, Marky Mark is a sort of modern Rambo, a sharpshooter veteran who hung up his shotguns after a botched peacekeeping mission. He's retired and living it up on a secluded mountain, but when corrupt officials try to frame him for the attempted assassination of the President of the United States, it's time to whip out the Rambo routine!

Don't we live in an enlightened age, you say. Certainly Bob Lee Swagger (I'm not making his name up!) could civilly explain everything, unless powerful shadowy government agencies are trying to kill him before he has a chance. And certainly, Bob Lee Swagger could explain, if given a chance, that these shadowy government agencies hired him to plan the assassination of the President in order to catch a mysterious, existing assassin - nobody expected the agency to actually carry his plan out and pin the blame on him... See here: this sort of excuse is just lame, and truth be told, everyone and you and I would laugh at him for stretching our credulity ("You expect us to believe you never thought of that?"). Hence the only way for Bob Lee Swagger to clear his name is to take out every last conspirator in the shadowy government agency himself! Plus, they killed his beloved dog while trying to set him up.

Aside from the initial setup in the first third of the movie, Shooter feels and plays like a liberal Rambo, with the hero slowly picking off one enemy after another - only this time, they're corrupt and shadowy US government officials who take pride in stating upfront that yes, they invaded Iraq on false pretexts, and well, the American people fell for it, heh heh heh! Yes, these officials are so evil and smirking that you'll want to cheer Sylvester Stallone Mark Wahlberg as he enacts his slow revenge (Nobody! Nobody kills my dog!). But does Shooter really live up to its goal of remaking Rambo for the Iraq War generation?

I'd venture that the results are mixed. Shooter's shadowy agency types do beat the sheriff's department from Rambo: First Blood hands down, and Wahlberg's sharpshooter is at least on par with Stallone's Elite marine veteran. The sharpshooter, of course, is more suited to an action thriller set in the urban United States, as opposed to a marine vet, but there's a danger that the non-contact sport of the marksman may not excite the action thriller fan as much as a good old-fashioned mano-e-mano grapple with Sly. The director attempts to address this issue by resorting to lots of exploding vehicles (cars and helicopters), but the most entertaining points of the movie come from watching Mark Wahlberg do the Rambo thing - operating on his own wounds, picking off his victims while masked in camouflage paint, and conducting a one-man battle against overwhelming forces. He's not Rambo, though, and the explosions may not completely mask your feeling that there's not enough violent killing done in this movie.

What is worth appreciating in Shooter isn't its attempt to update Rambo for the post-9/11 world (slightly above average, but not a complete success), but rather how it manages to update the thriller genre for the post-9/11 world. I mean, with such an incompetent, mendacious, and malevolent President and administration serving the United States, it has certainly taken long enough for popular culture to produce a revenge fantasy where a soldier gives these lying politicians and agencies what they deserve. My only hope is that the movie remake of The A-Team due next year will take its cue from Antoine Fuqua and Jonathan Lemkin, and update The A-Team into Gulf War II veterans bringing down military forces who set them up for a crime they didn't commit. One can only hope!

First published at incinemas on 5 April 2007

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