Loosely based on Stephen Hunter's Point of Impact, Antoine Fuqua's taut thriller harks back to the paranoid heyday of THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975).
Top-notch Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) retired from military service and the world after a covert mission in Ethiopia went very wrong, killing Swagger's spotter (Lane Garrison, Prison Break's Tweener) and stranding Swagger behind enemy lines to die. Swagger came back with his patriotic ideals in tatters and retreated to an isolated mountain cabin and the company of a good ol' mutt named Sam. But skills like Swagger's are in short supply, and three years later the government comes looking in the guise of genial Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) and his flunkies, mad dog Jack Payne (Elias Koteas) and weasel Louis Dobbler (Jonathan Walker). They've uncovered a plot to assassinate the president at an upcoming public appearance, Johnson explains, using an extraordinary sniper at a near-impossible distance. Only Swagger can help he has the know-how to figure out where such a sniper might station himself. Only after Swagger has done everything Johnson asked does he realize he wasn't recruited to prevent the president's murder: He's the designated fall guy for a different murder, that of Ethiopian cleric Desmond Mutumbo (Dean McKenzie). But Swagger isn't one to go down easily. Wounded and pursued by the FBI, local police and whatever black-op shadow army Johnson answers to, Swagger relieves rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Pena) of his gun and his car and disappears, pausing only to tell Memphis that the whole thing was a setup. Memphis, a mere three weeks out of the academy and faced with public humiliation and professional ruin, isn't inherently sympathetic. But by the time he's barely survived his own staged "suicide," Memphis is ready to help Swagger uncover the truth before it's permanently eclipsed by the official story.
Screenwriter Jonathan Lemnick updates Hunter's novel while transforming it into FIRST BLOOD (1982) by way of TV's 24. This will disappoint the book's fans, but it produces a sleek, taut entertainment spiked with timely political bile. Wahlberg acquits himself well, and the supporting cast which includes pioneering rocker Levon Helm in a scene-stealing cameo as an aging gun buff who knows a thing or two about cover-ups, Ned Beatty as a corrupt politician, and a Strangelovian Rade Serbedzija is so strong you almost wish the film were longer so they could have more screen time. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh