Cinema Signal:

The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper
by Jack Coughlin, Casey Kuhlman, Donald A. Davis
in Hardcover from Amazon
"At another time, on another battlefield, my radio call sign had been "Gabriel," because the archangel and I have a lot in common..."

Point of Impact
by Stephen Hunter
in Paperback from Amazon
. "Shooter"

For the action crowd, director Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day"), working from Jonathan Lemkin's ("Red Planet") final draft of a screenplay with a 12-year history of revisions, turns in a chase-revenge adventure that stretches every element of reality to highten the thrills. The action's good, the casting is close to superb, the explosions colorful and the music's high tempo. All you have to do is ignore the stereotypes that seem to be script leftovers from previous versions.

The story feeds into conspiracy theories tightly wound into politics of the day and an attempt to "make a statement." But it's really all about corruption in government and its taking down by a well-armed vigilante.

That man is Bob Lee Swagger played by a totally buff Mark Wahlberg fresh off his excellent supporting role as an uncompromising FBI agent in "The Departed." Whoever came up with that name for him needs a lesson in subtlety but it's all based on "Point of Impact," a novel by Stephen Hunter -- another name loaded with coincidence).

In a prologue, we're completely convinced of several things: our hero is a scout sniper at the peak range of skill and, when he loses his buddy and companion spotter, is fairly disgusted by a military betrayal that nearly costs him his life. In the aftermath, he chooses a quiet, remote existence with his dog. Remote enough to never be found by the usual agencies or services. Or, so go his illusions.

Life for him on the mountain retreat will never be the same once he's found and visited by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) and his personal goon Jack Payne (Elias Koteas). You'll have to admit that the Colonel, however, is a smooth talker who has done all the research necessary to know where to press Swagger's buttons in order to break him out of retirement and recruit him for some very special duty.

Mainly it amounts to appealing to his patriotism in light of a plot to assassinate the President during one of three upcoming appearances in different cities. Johnson wants Swagger's expertise in order to anticipate every move a treasonous sniper might use for the purpose so that they may prevent the disaster.

Swagger accepts and immediately gets to work scoping out the 3 possible locations like an insurance agent checking damage on a claim in order to save his company millions. He reports back to Johnson with the likely city the sniper will prefer and precisely why, having to do with distance, windage, secrecy and positioning. Perfect. Except that his analysis is being highjacked for the opposite purpose: to ensure the success of the assassination. And, even that's a misrepresentation in this criminal conspiracy that comes from high political circles.

Of course, once it's carried out, with Swagger in the clutches of Johnson and his men, he has seen too much to let him live. As he witnesses the shooting and realizes what the real game is, he jumps out a window, is shot twice and escapes on the run with the entire car pool of city police and FBI, sirens-blazing, chasing him through the city.

En route he encounters FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena of "World Trade Center") standing guard at a distant outpost. Swagger quickly disarms him, takes his weapon and handcuffs him to a pipe. He also tells him, "I didn't shoot the president!" as he takes off again, fugitive on the run.

When Memphis is found and released, Swagger's statement gets his thought processes working -- differently than anyone else's at the agency. The logic of the accusations become hard for him to accept on face value and he probes areas that could get him fired. But he pursues it, with the help of gorgeous Alourdes Galindo (Rhona Mitra - of "Boston Legal" and "Nip/Tuck"). Entering the chase from the sidelines, he will become Swagger's sidekick and spotter, to great effect.

The scenario provides all the excitement that the premise of an action movie promises. This particular premise, that of a supreme gunnery expert who can find a target within the space of a quarter from 1000 meters, carries special appeal: a combination of the personal side of an individual's partnership with his weapon and the awesome power he harnesses in its use: the military context of the sniper.

As the bearer of the responsibilities and expert training involved, Wahlberg is perfection in an everyman portrayal that carries and justifies the movie. If any further creds are needed to establish him in the pantheon of action heroes, his buff musculature and mental commitment to the discipline and proficiency of his character's calling should serve nicely as he lives through his pains and when he unleashes his punishments.

The Irish beauty of Kate Mara ("We Are Marshall") is brought into the adventure when Swagger needs to find some ally and chooses his dead comrade's wife (from the first episode), Sarah Fenn. As an ex-nurse to whom he has been sending remembrance gifts on an annual basis for three years, she's setup nicely as the potential love interest. Her red-haired brown-eyed sensuality that any man might pine for fills the love interest balance to the explosive dangers out in the cold.

But no less her match for beauty is Mitra, who has dropped the British accent she used to admirable effect in "Boston Legal." Among the best looking actresses of her generation, her appeal derives as well from her crisply intelligent style.

Another great choice here is Pena, another everyman, flawed, awkward, but made of the right stuff.

Glover is adequately colorful in a stereotypical bad guy role. Special abhorrence is reserved for Koteas' psychotic exaggeration. But, in the area of stereotypes, it would be hard to beat Ned Beatty's blustery U.S. senator.

There are no exaggerations in the tech credits led by Peter Menzies Jr.'s very sharp cinematography and composer Mark Mancina's taut, driving rhythms. Excellent production design was by Vance Lorenzini and J. Dennis Washington. Top craftsmen, all.

Since this is all laid into a political conspiracy context, the letdown is the attempt at a just payoff. Here, I'm afraid, the sharp action and unrelieved suspense maintained for most of the film's 120 minutes goes into a downward spin of fantasy. The movie's sustained grip gets drowned in a miasma of dirty linen that's more contrived than convincing. In fact, it's superficiality to the point of caricature.

This climactic cleanup is what's calling forth the boos and hisses that aren't altogether fair to an action adventure with so much true character and skill.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 4

There wasn't an incident in this film that didn't or couldn't happen with our present administration. Loved the last scene- payback for killing his dog- YEA.

[Ed. note: Can't disagree at all with this visitor's comment.]

Well written, perceptive
This review will influence me to see this movie
Site rating: 7

                                                           Keith H.

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