Sunday, March 25, 2007


Rarely has a fairly good, no-frills thriller been so soundly undone by its atrocious ending.

I won't go into details about it until the end of this post, to spare those who haven't seen this one yet, but for now I'll just say that it betrays what the hero, Bob Lee Swagger (I don't know about you, but I love the name) is all about.

We have to buy into the fact that Marky Mark Wahlberg's Swagger is a man on the run from the shadowy forces that always control our government in these types of movies in order to believe some of the more ridiculous action sequences he survives. To believe, for example, that he and a sympathetic rogue FBI agent (Michael Pena) can go to the hardware store to find all they need to make some first-class explosives, and then shoot and blast their way out of an ambush by many heavily armed soldiers at a farmhouse.

But, if you're willing to suspend this disbelief, Fuqua, up unil the end, has managed to craft the kind of old-fashioned thriller that I thought had already been wiped out by CGI.

He quickly sets up Swagger's backstory about the army mission that went awry, leading the sharpshooter to live as a mountain man ala Ted Kaczynski, albeit in a much nicer cabin. And his mission is a doozy: Get inside the mind of a would-be presidential assassin and stop him.

My only beef with this fluid setup was that, after telling us the attempt would happen in either Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, Fuqua feels the need to tell us - with the words - when Swagger is scoping out each city, even as we see the Capitol building, then the Inner Harbor and then a statue of Ben Franklin. Despite the fact that I might sometimes act like one, I am not an infant, and I don't particularly like being treated like one.

From here on out, it's a fairly intense manhunt that reminded me of 70s thrillers in its pacing and '80s ones in its celebration of seeing things get blowed up good. And that's something I'll always enjoy seeing. The plot for which Swagger, a creation of Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter, becomes the fall guy is appropriately ridiculous. All I'll tell you is that this time the big bad is big oil.

We, or at least I, go along with all this because Wahlberg makes us believe in Swagger's mission to clear his name. Along the way he's abetted by Pena and also by Kate Mara, who plays the widow of his army buddy who didn't make it home. Mara is an astoundingly beautiful woman and a good actress who deserves much more than being leared at creepily by the father of her dead fiance (Ian McShane in "We Are Marshall") or being chained to the stove and tortured as she is here (off-screen, lest you might think that would be fun to watch.)

Danny Glover and Ned Beatty clearly have fun as the rather preposterous bogeymen, but it's Wahlberg's mountain-man mystique and Fuqua's welcome lack of flash that makes this a mostly satisfying thriller and sets up Swagger for at least a couple more flicks, if the box office numbers deliver.


OK, here's where I'd like to hear from anyone who has read the book on which this flick is based, "Point of Impact," because I can't believe that Hunter would have ended it by having Swagger hunt down the colonel and the senator and kill them both.

This all-too-neat Hollywood ending comes after he has already cleared his name, which is where it should have ended. Swagger, a free man with a still rather large chip on his shoulder, would have been the perfect character for a sequel or two or three.

But when they tack on the executions at the end, it shifts to becoming all about revenge, and it's a jarring change in course. I'm sure some studio hack asked for this so we wouldn't have any of those pesky loose ends to worry about, but it just didn't work for me.


renee said...

To me, the whole thing didn't make a lick of sense, but I thought the ending did fit in with the rest of the film. To me, right from the start, he was off for revenge, not just to clear his name. That's made clear when the Pena character tries to talk him into letting the law handle it and he rejects that. He's already just trying to kill everyone that was in on it and when he does try to let the law handle the Senator and his conspirators by turning in the photos and that doesn't work, it makes total sense that he takes matters into his own hands and punishes the Senator and his people. He wasn't interested in just clearing his name, but in "justice" and "revenge" on a grand scale. I would have been surprised if he just let the Senator get away with what he knew he had done. In fact, I was surprised he let him go on the mountaintop, but clearly that was setting up the scene with the AG later.

I know there are a couple more Bob Lee Swagger books and if this film does well, I think we'll definitely see sequels. For me, the whole thing was too stupid and convoluted to work - I just didn't buy it. I did like the actors and thought they were all wasted in this garbage.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can see what you mean, Renee, but, after having already been set up once, why would have he given himself in, even if he did think Pena's character was sincere ... Though I would never this one garbage, I also have to agree that almost everyone in this one will appear in better movies in the future

Jonathan said...

One thing that will never stop annoying me in films is when they show the Statue of Liberty with "New York City" under it as a subtitle. I think this would even be insulting to put on when it gets released outside of the country.

Neel Mehta said...

I found the film problematic long before the ending. My question: who the heck committed the assassination? Was it the Russian guy? I can accept that he was part of the ballistics coverup, but it would be lame if he were the shooter.

What I thought they were gonna do (especially with Pena looking into the remote gun theory) was have Swagger basically give the variables they needed to commit the crime. In effect, Swagger would unknowingly be the assassin. But they dropped that whole subplot, which was a waste.

Also unclear was the motivations of the Cheney-esque pol and Danny Glover's character. Not only should their reasons make sense, but they should be important enough for a corruption of this scope.

I don't know about the book, but this movie showed signs of a great thriller concept that was destroyed by a senseless need for explosive action.

Reel Fanatic said...

I can see your points, Neel .. Perhaps I just gave it too much of a break because I wanted so much for it to be good ... I think the Russian guy at least planned the assassination, though you're right that we never do really find out who the trigger man is

Damian Arlyn said...

Personally speaking, I quite liked the movie. It was exactly what I expected it to be (no more and no less): a halfway decent politial thriller/action movie. Though not nearly up to the level of a Jason Bourne adventure, I'd still be interested in seeing a sequel (as long as it has Mark Wahlberg in it).

As for the ending, I agree with you that it was pretty bad, but I don't know that it was "atrocious," it certainly didn't "ruin" the film for me. It just didn't end it very satisfactorily. In my mind, the "real" climax was on that icy mountaintop. I don't know how the book ends or doesn't end, but since literary faithfulness isn't exactly a major concern in Hollywood, I think they ought to have found a way to wrap things up in the snow. That's where it should've ended IMO.

Linda said...

I agree with renee, I don't think any other ending would work, all doors had been closed. This was a film with so much potential that was squandered, though the pyrotechnics were impressive. Have to say, the audience I saw this with was predominantly male and they dug it!!

The Shaolin said...

Thanks Keith, for your comment on my post: Movie Review: 300
And not to mention the raw animal'ish flesh fight in Apocalypto is disgusting too!

Don't have your email ID, so posting reply as a comment off-the-topic here.

Eaglewing said...

Ok, I've read the book (and really liked it) but haven't seen the movie. Been a while since I read it, so a little fuzzy on the details. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!!

In the book ending, Swagger and Nick Memphis wind up having evidence against Colonel Shreck and other politicos about something bad from Vietnam. Shreck and Payne have Swaggers gal as a hostage and setup the exchange. The real shooter of the Archbishop is some 1500 yards out and intending to kill Swagger. Nick takes out the sniper with a 1000 yards shot(Swagger predicted where he'd be), and Swagger kills both Shreck and Payne in an upclose shootout to save Julie. Then he destroys the evidence for reasons I can't remember. Howard D. Utey and the feds descend and arrest Swagger. They try to turn Nick against Swagger, but he doesn't sell out even when it looks really bad. The finale is in the courtroom at an evidence hearing to set a court date. After the prosecutor sets out all the evidence against Swagger (they're going after murder one for the Archbisop murder), Swagger's old lawyer friend is defending him and in a nice twist (great scene in the book) proves that the rifle they have couldn't have been used to kill the Archbishop by Swagger. Basically, Swagger altered the rifle and outsmarted them all right from the beginning. He goes free and disappears with his gal. The rest of the bad guys are uncerimoniously fired from their positions in disgrace. Hugh Meachum - behind a lot of it - dies 3 days later from a coronary as if his heart exploded like being hit by a bullet. Make of that what you will.

One thing's for sure - the story is rooted in Vietnam and the big bad sure isn't big oil. The thing about Swagger is (and the reason I liked the book) that he doesn't just outshoot them all, he outsmarts them all at every turn. And I think it is about revenge. He comes back because he thinks he's getting a shot at the sniper who took out his hip and killed his partner in Vietnam. He really doesn't trust the government and as the truth comes to light, he goes after those as well because it isn't about clearing his name as he knew he had protected himself right from the beginning. It's about getting them all - every last one.

The book is a great read - I'm hoping the movie isn't too much of a letdown.

Reel Fanatic said...

From that description, Eaglewing, for which I'm very grateful, it's clear they took even more liberties with the story than I had imagined ... I can't imagine Hunter is too pleased, but I could be wrong about that ... I e-mailed him to ask his response, but I can't imagine he would want to even if he has the time ... Let me know if and when you actually do see the movie

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I didn't like the ending much but I also didn't like how we got there.

I wasn't particularly impressed by any part of the movie, except for the cool moment when I recognized my neighborhood posing as Philly.

Fated said...

I was between Shooter and Reign Over Me for tonight. Ultimately chose Reign Over me. Shooter will be soon though. What was your final score for shooter? And, have you seen Reign Over me?

Reel Fanatic said...

I haven't seen Reign Over Me yet, fated, and depending on what comes out in the next few weeks I may just wait for DVD for that one ... As for a final score for Shooter, I'd give it a 7/10, which from the comments give here is higher than just about anyone else would have

Brian Erickson said...

Seriously, WHY see Shooter?

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm not sure I can give you a solid answer to that one .. I only saw it because I wanted to see something, and though it was the best thing available .. This weekend looks pretty dim too, but we'll see

James said...

Like I mentioned in my review (btw...I agree with everything you said here as well) will be fun to see what "extras" come with the DVD, ie, alternate endings!

Nice job.

Reel Fanatic said...

There should be at least two or three I imagine, Skip ... I've just started reading the book, and I really enjoy it so far

Nell Minow said...

Once again, we agree in our thoughts on this film. Steve Hunter, who wrote the book, is the Washington Post film critic (the only one other than Roger Ebert ever to win a Pulitzer for film criticism), and a friend of mine. I think you will enjoy his online chat. Here is a Q&A about the ending:

Annapolis, Md.: If you could change one thing about the movie, what would you change? What is the one change that the writer and director made that you think improved your story the most?

Stephen Hunter: Well, don't tell anyone, but that last three minutes in the cabin in the woods was a late add to the thing and in my humble opinion could have been handled better. I'm not even sure Antoine directed it. I think Bob and Danny Glover should have shot it out in a real cool way, and the transaction involving "I win" and "I win again" could have been concluded with Bob saying "Know what? I win" and bang. Anyhow, they did what they did and made the choices they made and generally, I thought they did a good job. I thought the book was wisely trimmed so that it was containable within a two-hour time frame, though I hated to see Vietnam Bob's southern heritage go.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Nell ... I should have figured he addressed all that in some forum .. I had foolishly e-mailed him thinking I might get some kind of individual response, but I suppose someone in his position just might have a few other things to do than answer every question they get

Anonymous said...

Technology truly has become completely integrated to our existence, and I am 99% certain that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes cheaper, the possibility of uploading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about every once in a while.

(Posted on NePof for R4i Nintendo DS.)

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