“Shooter” – A Didactic Film Review

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Last night (Sunday 20th January), The great film, “Shooter”, was shown on Sweden’s television channel TV4. Nearly five years ago I wrote a review of this film for an online blogzine. Here is what I wrote:

 

 

 

 

 

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I had previously seen a number of mixed reviews of the film, “Shooter”, directed by Antoine Fuqua, with a screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin. The mainstream media were not enthusiastic. One viewer’s review said it was made by and for “pinko-liberal communists” to get people to despise their government; whereas another one said that it was one of the most unforgettable films he has ever seen with an intelligent screenplay and an important message for our time. I guess this is the great divide in America. One either “gets it” or one doesn’t… and most don’t.

The essential storyline of the film is as follows. (By the way, I make no apologies for “spoilers” as knowing what happens doesn’t make a jot of difference to appreciating the message or the direction of the film). It opens with a US marine expert sniper (Bob Lee Swagger, played by Mark Wahlberg) and Danny, his “spotter”, in Ethiopia watching over a “black ops” mission from a hillside. Things go wrong and they get hung out to dry by the CIA field advisor and, as a result, they come under attack and the spotter is killed. Cut to three years later and we see Swagger (Ruby Ridge style) in a cabin 9000 feet up in the mountains in Wyoming with his dog (who fetches his beers from the refrigerator) and the solitude. By now he has a ponytail, a beard and a book about 9/11 on his desk. As he turns to a news website on his computer, he mutters “Let’s see what lies they’ve got for us today”. Clearly, he had learned from his experience in Ethiopia!

Suddenly, we hear a car outside. It’s a large black SUV with blacked-out windows. No prizes for guessing who is inside! Three big guys emerge, the head of which is a Colonel Johnson (not, of course, his real name) – a big wheel in the kind of contracting company (like Blackwater) increasingly used by the Pentagon as a way of carrying out dirty operations which would not (officially) be publicly tolerated by congress. Swagger comes out of the cabin and tells them to turn tail and go back where they came from. But they have a proposition for him. They claim to have intercepted a plot to assassinate the President and Col. Johnson’s people have determined that it would probably have to happen in one of three places (Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia), and would have to be done by a sniper shooting from over 1,500 yards away. Johnson says he wants Swagger to stake out the three areas, and determine the best way that the sniper would do it, so that they can try to prevent it. At first, he refuses; but after Johnson pushes some of Swagger’s patriotic buttons, the sniper agrees. Sample dialogue of Johnson’s argument here:

Bob Lee Swagger:  “I don’t really like the President much. Didn’t like the one before that, much, either”.

Colonel Isaac Johnson:  “You like the idea of the President, living in a free country. Do we allow America to be ruled by thugs?”

Bob Lee Swagger:  “Sure, some years we do”.

Huge laugh in the cinemas. But it’s not so much funny as true. And it’s not just some years but most! Of course, the irony here is that Colonel Johnson and his ilk are the total thugs, as the film reveals. It also reveals that America is ruled by such thugs, regardless of who is president.

Soon, we see Swagger sizing up the various potential assassination locations and he reports back that Philadelphia is the most likely. When the day comes for the President’s speech in front of Independence Hall in Philly, Swagger is there with his binoculars in a room overlooking the event with Colonel Johnson and sidekicks. Just as the hit is about to take place, a beat cop comes into the room by arrangement with Johnson and proceeds to shoot Swagger who is hit twice and falls out of the window through a glass roof. Still alive but badly hurt, Swagger limps off and forcibly takes an FBI vehicle from an agent (Nick Memphis) who he tells about the set-up. After a car chase he winds up in the river and disappears. The TV news declares that Swagger was the assassin and portrays him as a dangerous man on the run. (We can smell Lee Harvey Oswald here – in fact, Swagger’s name is not totally dissimilar – although the difference is that Swagger-the-patsy is much more adept at keeping himself alive than Oswald-the-patsy). Swagger then goes to the house of the girlfriend of his dead spotter buddy from Ethiopia who dresses his wounds and helps him to recover (as well as providing him with Danny’s old hunting rifle to get him started on his campaign of revenge).

The rest of the film is about how Swagger finds out what is going on, who is involved and why. (In fact, it wasn’t the President who was hit but an Ethiopian bishop standing next to him. There are good reasons for that, connected with the ‘black op’ at the beginning of the movie, as you will discover if you see it).

There are a few particular cameo scenes in the movie during which much is revealed. They are like set-pieces.

1) In the first cameo scene, the rookie FBI agent, Nick Memphis (3 months out of the academy) has been lured by Swagger as bait into a trap. (The agent already realises that Swagger was set-up and, as a result, he obviously has to be dealt with by the powers that be). We then see Memphis kidnapped by CIA hired thugs and beaten in a disused warehouse, after which he is rigged up in a suicide machine – a kind of brace which pulls your arm round to point at your head and a gun is put in your hand and fired. One of the agents tells him “Don’t worry, you’ve already written a touching suicide note”. What they didn’t reckon on was Swagger in a boat 200 yards away with the hunting rifle. Three shots later the agents are dead and Memphis is rescued by Swagger. One of the great moments in the film is in this scene when Memphis tells Swagger to get himself a good lawyer and he’ll file an FBI report to his superior telling the truth and then everything will be okay. Now here you’d expect Swagger to say something like “Don’t be so stupid, they’re all in on it”. But instead he simply says “I don’t think you understand. These people killed my dog”. Precisely. They’d stop at nothing. They have to be dealt with! From that point on, Memphis teams up with Swagger in trying to get to the bottom of the plot.

2) The second cameo scene involves a visit by Swagger and Memphis to a wise old gunsmith called Mr. Rate who is based in Tennessee (which Swagger amusingly calls “the patron state of killing stuff”!). The old gunsmith is played by actor Levon Helm (the original drummer and vocalist in Bob Dylan’s group, The Band). There is something totally real about this scene. Helm’s character rings true. This is a great role, wonderfully performed, as Mr. Rate sheds some important additional light on the plot. In response to the public notion that Swagger killed the Ethiopian bishop, Mr. Rate says mischievously: “They also said artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in Iraq, and Anna Nicole married for love!”  Right on, Mr. Rate. There must be many such wise old-timers tucked away in the backwoods of Tennessee!

3) The third cameo scene involves a confrontation between Swagger and another sniper who works as a contracted killer for the CIA (and who seems to spend most of the movie based in the Langley, Virginia, headquarters of that organisation). He’s the one who killed the archbishop from Ethiopia. This guy is played by Serbian actor, Rade Serbedzija, who brings a sinister touch to the movie. With nothing left to lose and minutes away from death (realising that he too is about to be “wasted” by his CIA handlers), he spills the beans about everything to Swagger. It’s a powerful few minutes of vital information about the plot, about the fact that nothing evil happens without the prior approval of the government, and also about the ‘black op’ which Swagger unwittingly protected as a sniper at the beginning of the film. Apparently, the Blackwater style contractors for which Swagger had been sniping were massacring an Ethiopian village of four hundred men, women and children to make way for a US oil pipeline, the station of which was built over the mass grave. (The Ethiopian archbishop was going to spill the beans about this event while he was alongside the US president so he was shot dead but it was made to look like a botched assassination attempt on the President – with Swagger as the fall guy).

4) The fourth cameo scene involves a powerful denouement on top of a glacier. Present are Col. Johnson, Senator Charles F. Meacham, a CIA hitman, Swagger, his girlfriend and Nick Memphis. Swagger has now got the upper hand, having thwarted every attempt on the part of Col. Johnson (run by Senator Charles F. Meacham) to kill him off. But, true to form, Meachum isn’t about to give up (these guys never do). Here’s part of the exchange:

Senator Charles F. Meachum:  “You got any plans after this? You have a rather unique skill set. I’d be interested in offering you a job”.

Bob Lee Swagger:  “Work? For you?”

Senator Charles F. Meachum:  “It’s not really as bad as it seems. It’s all gonna be done in any case. You might as well be on the side that gets you well paid for your efforts”.

Nick Memphis:  “And what side are you on?”

Senator Charles F. Meachum:  “There are no sides. There’s no Sunnis and Shiites. There’s no Democrats and Republicans. There’s only haves and have-nots… There’s always a confused soul that thinks that one man can make a difference. And you have to kill him to convince him otherwise. That’s the hassle with democracy… This is a country where the Secretary of Defense can go on T.V., and tell the American public that ‘This is about freedom! It’s not about oil!’ And nobody questions him, cuz they don’t wanna hear the answer, because it’s a lie! There are only so many places at the table, Gunnie. Now, are you on the INSIDE, or are you on the OUT?”

This scene represents the confrontation between the corrupt government/secret service nabobs and the patriots who have seen through them. It demonstrates the utter cynicism, complete self-centredness and total disregard for truth and human life of those who “run things”. (It also represents the naiveté of those who think that it is possible to do something about it, but that’s another story, as we’ll see).

5) The fifth cameo scene in the film takes place in the US Attorney-General’s office. This occurs near the end of the movie and is, in my opinion, where it begins to go slightly astray. I don’t mean in terms of the dialogue content but in terms of the fact that, in reality, by this time Swagger (and FBI agent Nick Memphis) would no longer be alive. No doubt about that. However, be that as it may, Swagger is brought in chains and wearing an orange prison suit into the Attorney-General’s office before a small committee. Col. Johnson is also present, as is FBI agent Nick Memphis. Swagger and Memphis reveal the truth to the AG about the assassination and about the Ethiopian massacre but, although he agrees that it is the truth, he confesses that he is unable to do anything about it—that he is powerless against these forces. The Attorney-General does say to Johnson: “Colonel, your moral compass is so fucked-up, I’ll be shocked if you manage to find your way back to the parking lot”. Nevertheless, Col. Johnson then walks from the room a free man, while saying to Swagger “I won”. The AG then sits informally on the table beside Swagger and says: “For the record, I don’t like how this has turned out any more then you do. But this is the world we live in. And justice does not always prevail. It’s not the wild west where you can clean up the streets with a gun. Even though sometimes it’s exactly what is needed… Bob Lee Swagger, you’re free to go”. The clear implication is an unspoken authorization by the powerless Attorney-General for Swagger to “clean up the streets with a gun”, which he duly does in the final scene of the film.

However, even though Swagger does mete out Wild West justice in the film, while this may be satisfying for audiences looking for a resolution to tell them that all is well with the world, it will not change anything at all; because for every Senator Meacham and Col. Johnson there are two more such scum waiting to step into their shoes. As the Serbian CIA sniper asset told Swagger “You don’t get it. There is no head to cut off. It’s a conglomerate. If one of them betrays the principles of accrual of money and power, the others betray him”. And this is the main theme of the film: That the entire thrust of government (in this case, especially the US government) is all about money and power and the fact that anything or anyone who stands in the way of that will be ruthlessly dispatched from this world.

Bob Lee Swagger is a kind of patriotic antihero, a hybrid consisting of John Wayne cleaning up the streets of the Wild West and Clint Eastwood cleaning up the streets of Los Angeles (some might even add Rambo cleaning up the jungle). As a sergeant gunner in the US marines, Swagger had awoken from the hypnotically-induced trance which makes soldiers and civilians alike naively think that the military is defending freedom and democracy.

Swagger’s own betrayal experience in the military and his subsequent researches have led him to understand how things work in the world of conspiracy-fact. As he says to the girl tending his wounds: “The first rule of conspiracy is to find some dumb-assed patsy, blame him and then kill him. The second rule of conspiracy is to clean up the loose ends. After Ruby took care of his end, somehow he dies of an embolism in jail before he can talk to anybody”. For those too young to remember, Jack Ruby was the unstable, nightclub-owning, mafia-connected “patsy” who was sent in to kill Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK’s alleged killer) to shut him up, not at the time realising that he himself was going to be taken out too.  [Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Ruby: “A year after his conviction, in March 1965, Ruby conducted a brief televised news conference in which he stated: ‘Everything pertaining to what’s happening has never come to the surface. The world will never know the true facts of what occurred, my motives. The people who had so much to gain, and had such an ulterior motive for putting me in the position I’m in, will never let the true facts come above board to the world.’ When asked by a reporter: ‘Are these people in very high positions Jack?’ he responded ‘Yes’.] As Swagger said, the loose ends must be cleaned up. Thus Jack Ruby was also duly cleaned up (taken out, killed).

In fact, many people connected with the Kennedy assassination have been murdered or have died under mysterious circumstances, for which see Sylvia Meagher, “Accessories After the Fact: The Warren Commission and the Report”, Random House, 1976, 477 pages, sadly out of print but still available used and highly recommended. The Kennedy assassination is the most disgusting wart on the face of the United States of America. It is its pinnacle of corruption and a warning to all who would try to meddle with the plans of those who secretly run the country. The warning is: “Meddle and you will soon be removed from this world. If we can do it to a man like the President, then we can easily do it to you”. (Remember that Kennedy wanted to stand up to organised crime with his brother and he also said he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds”. As part of that, he removed the then director of the CIA, Allen F. Dulles, from office — though ironically Dulles later sat on the Warren Commission which produced the whitewash report on Kennedy’s assassination. A president cannot stand up to organised crime and the CIA and expect to live for long. As the Mafia and CIA have always been in each other’s pockets — and even carry out each other’s assassinations — it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to work out how John F. Kennedy met his death).

There are a number of things which are underlined in this film:

1)     The first thing which is underlined in this film is that the US military is not a force for the defense of the country but it is a tool of the corporate empires of America in the global furtherance of their wealth and power. If people do not realise this after the debacles of Afghanistan and Iraq then they are blind beyond belief.

2)     The second thing which is underlined in this film is that most politicians are not working for the representation of the people but are the puppets of the corporate empires of America in the global furtherance of their wealth and power. This is what so-called “lobbyism” is all about. But it goes way beyond that. Way beyond it. The truth is that the Senate and House of Representatives and all their committees are merely there to rubber-stamp whatever the corporations want to do wherever it is in the world. Together with the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the big corporations ensure the direction which business and government will take hand-in-hand. It is all carefully mapped out. Those countries which deviate from what is desired or which refuse to cooperate will be overthrown by a CIA induced coup, or leadership assassination, or a full-blown invasion, or financial bleeding dry and isolation; while those individuals who try and stand up to this machine or expose it will be silenced at any cost.

3)     The third thing which is underlined in this film is that the public media (newspapers, magazines, television) is one big lying machine but that the majority of people are actually relieved that it is the way it is because the truth would be far too revealing, far too painful and would necessitate them ceasing to be the kind of couch potatoes which governments need them to be. (It was interesting that when Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, uttered a few home truths about America, the media went into apoplexy and Obama had to publicly denounce his pastor! There’s nothing like Truth for causing a furore!).

4)     The fourth thing which is underlined in this film is that, as the Serbian sniper reveals, “Nothing—no matter how horrible—ever really happens without the approval of the government, over there and here”. This is what people do not, cannot and will not accept, even if they do suspect it in their hearts. I know of many people who secretly suspect that the event known as 9/11 was an inside job; but they cannot allow themselves to fully admit it because it would mean having to rethink everything in their lives and that is too painful—too destabilising for them, even though it is the truth. (Even ugly truth is beautiful precisely because it is Truth!). As it has been said: “The masses have never thirsted after truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim” (Gustave Le Bon).

“Shooter” is a film which harks back to the darkly cynical, profoundly sceptical, utterly convincing political-conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s and 1980s, such as “The Parallax View” and “Three Days of the Condor”, etc. There must be countless Nick Memphis’s in the FBI—as yet uncorrupted younger guys who doggedly want to see law and order prevail and that’s why they signed up in the first place. Just as there must be countless ex-marine types like Swagger who have seen through the thin veneer of democracy in the USA to witness the real corruption and evil which lies behind it and behind the darkness of the massacring American War Machine which — in a demonic touch of hypocrisy — poses as a freedom-giving angel of light. As Senator Meachum said in the film about Swagger, such men do indeed have “a unique skill set”. But the gun is not the answer. Creating patriotic militias will not solve anything. Rampant vigilantism will ultimately prove destructive and nihilistic, attractive as it may seem at a certain level of justice. (I will be addressing this whole issue of vigilantism in a separate article). There is a telling moment near the end of the film as Swagger administers gun justice to the oily Senator from Montana. The exchange goes like this:

Senator Charles F. Meachum:  “Wait a minute. Hold it, just a minute. Hold it… are you out of your mind? Are you out of your damn mind? I am a United States senator…”

Bob Lee Swagger (as he blows out the Senator’s brains):  “Exactly…”

Exactly indeed! The senator was reaping what he had sown. The very fact that he had been entrusted with government which he had then used murderously and corruptly meant that he deserved what he had meted out to others. But his death doesn’t solve anything. As the Serbian sniper said in his last powerful moments of honest exposition: “You don’t get it. There is no head to cut off. It’s a conglomerate. If one of them betrays the principles of the accrual of money and power, the others betray him. What it is is human weakness… and you can’t kill that with a gun. Precisely. It is the natural corruption of this present age which seeps into the heart of the human soul and it cannot be eradicated with a gun. The clear implication here is that for every evil scumbag to whom one might administer peremptory justice with a gun, Wild West style, there will be another one in the wings ready to take his or her place. There would be no end to it. This is the world in which we live. This present age is fundamentally evil and it is rooted in corruption, selfishness, avarice, murder and cruelty. The US government is no exception to this, also being solidly rooted in corruption, selfishness, avarice, murder and cruelty, no matter how much one may pretty it up to the human eye with White House lawns, elaborately-built Capitol Hill buildings and oak-lined interiors decked in grand portraits, velvet curtains and thick pile carpets. To fill such grand buildings with politicians is like putting dung inside a silver Gucci slipper.

If you wonder why I should be such an affront to you by speaking in this vein and about these things, it is because the deception has been so deep that the majority of people in the USA have actually supported and avidly campaigned for the corruption, selfishness, avarice, murder and cruelty carried out by their government in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. This is something for which they should be deeply ashamed. People need to be shocked out of their sleepwalking mediocrity and enslavement.

There is no time like the present to stop being a supporter of evil—whether it has been deliberate or by default, whether it has been through corroboration or because of cowardice. All you college professors, lawyers, CEOs, political hacks, teachers, theologians, pastors, journalists, businessmen and other big-deal people out there—instead of berating me each time I send out what you call a “conspiracy theory rant”—need to realise that if I was to keep quiet about the corruption, selfishness, avarice, murder and cruelty carried out by yours or any other government, that would make me just as guilty of it as if I had done it myself. The fact that you don’t want it saying makes you, too, just as guilty of those things as if you had done them yourselves. Guilt for such things sticks to you like mud sticks to a jackboot.

Make no mistake about it. It IS a jackboot that we are speaking about here. It is the fascism of corporate America and its US military puppet, backed up by its foppish servant—the Senate and Congress of its government—and silently supported by the smug collaboration of the American people. That such blatant fascism can happen under the thin disguise of freedom and democracy is a testament not only to the strong delusion involved but also to the gullibility of the mass of people today.

“Shooter” is a well-directed and powerful action film, even if only taken on that level. However, its message about the sham of democracy, the dictatorship of business corporations and the apparent powerlessness of decency in this age of evil is even more compelling. This film should give us cause to question whether we ourselves are collaborators and traitors or seditionists and dissidents. To take the latter course is the noble and knightly one, regardless of the outcome for our own personal safety.

 

Alan Morrison

© Copyright 2008

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