Bob Lee Swagger is the name of the character Mark Wahlberg plays in 2007’s “Shooter.” Swagger’s the hero of a long series of books by author Stephen Hunter. Nicknamed “Bob the Nailer,” he’s an ex-Marine corps sniper with 391 kills and supernatural quick-draw abilities to rival the Sundance Kid. Bob Lee’s dad Earl, basso profundo-voiced and similarly gun-talented, was a lawman, and has a whole series unto himself.
Hunter appears to cater to a very specific readership demographic: namely Southern gun owners. One has to assume from the tone of the books that Hunter himself has a certain nostalgia regarding the gothic aspects of the Jim Crow era, with Antebellum undertones. It’s the same atmosphere that was excellently portrayed in 1988’s “Mississippi Burning.”
That’s the Books, Here’s the Movie“Shooter” is an exhilarating, big-budget, military-and-law-enforcement-flavored action thriller about political corruption and betrayal on the one hand, and Bob Lee’s Marine corps integrity on the other, starting with Bob out in the bush, sniping bad guys on a black op-gone-wrong in Ethiopia.
When the mission is derailed by an unmarked helicopter gunship attacking his sniper hide-site, resulting in the death of his best friend and spotter, Donnie (Lane Garrison), Bob Lee returns home, furious at the military and governmental double-crosses. He retires, and holes up on a mountaintop in Arkansas, with lots of guns and a dog that fetches beer out of the fridge.
When Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) shows up and requests Bob’s assistance as a sniper-defense consultant to the Secret Service to prevent a possible long-range shot at the president, Bob initially turns the offer down. But when the Colonel plays the patriot card: “Do we allow America to be ruled by thugs?”—Bob can’t resist. As Bob later explains his knee-jerk patriotic tendency, “ I ain’t real proud of it. And I ain’t ashamed either.”
Excellent Supporting Cast“Shooter” is arguably the movie that put Michael Peña on the map. Here he plays irrepressible rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis, who Swagger disarms and smacks into the middle of next week.
When reviewed by his superiors about letting Swagger get away and asked if he’s embarrassed, he replies, “I don’t feel embarrassed. A Force Recon Marine Scout Sniper disarmed me three weeks out of the academy. If anything... I feel lucky to be alive.” Swagger later recruits Memphis as his spotter.
Kate Mara plays Sarah Fenn, the ex-wife of Swagger’s deceased spotter Donnie, a former nurse trainee who quit because she couldn’t bear the sight of blood. Swagger runs from the law with a bullet in his chest to her doorstep, saying (regarding the shotgun she’s about to pull on him) “Look, if you’re going to do it, just get it over with. I ain’t got nowhere else to go.”
Forced to face her fears, she comes through splendidly. In the books, this section had a salacious twist, but it’s thankfully deleted here, and while Mara and Wahlberg have strong chemistry, it’s righteous. She of course becomes Swagger’s exploitable Achilles heel.
Wrap UpThe corrupt politics and cynicism are rancid and disheartening; “There ain’t no Sunnis and Shia, no Democrats or Republicans; there’s just haves and have-nots,” snickers Ned Beatty’s Senator Meachum.
For sheer action, power, combat, military spec ops coolness of the Recon Marine sort, however, “Shooter” is tremendous boy fun with its big-bore rifles, sidearms, improvised field surgery, and “Killer Egg” (MH-6 Little Bird) gunships.
With so many of Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee books out there, I’m amazed more haven’t yet been made into movies by now.