* * *
Directed by: Luis Llosa
Starring: Tom Berenger, Billy Zane, and J.T. Walsh
Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett is “The Best”. The best at being a sniper, that is. He’s a hardcore, dedicated Marine who gives his all to his craft. He’s truly turned sniping into an art. Beckett is stationed in the jungles of Panama, and his mission is to eliminate a rebel leader, as well as his drug lord financier. Beckett is infamous because his “spotters” all end up getting shot, but his latest one is one Richard Miller (Zane), a government flack who was an Olympic marksman. Miller is green and Beckett has to show him the ropes. But after spending some time in the jungle, Miller gets cocky and he challenges Beckett often. Not only do they still have to execute their mission, but there is also an evil sniper trying to out-snipe them, and he may or may not be a traitorous American. Will Beckett and Miller live to snipe another day?
While, plotwise, Sniper may be a fairly standard “El Presidente” movie, it can also probably stand as the ultimate sniper movie. That may seem obvious, but this movie goes into many of the ins and outs of the sniper’s creed. It can best be boiled down to one line: “One shot. One kill. No exceptions.” The pace of the movie follows suit, as Beckett explains there is a lot of waiting and setup before he can take his shot. The movie mirrors that. But there’s plenty of jungle-based machine gun shooting as well. Sniper was a Hollywood movie that was released to theaters, so it has high production values and a somewhat classy feel.
Director Llosa also directed Hour of the Assassin (1987), which is pretty similar to this. But while that one starred Erik Estrada, now we have Berenger and Zane. Berenger is completely believable as Beckett. He’s really a great actor, you never once doubt that Beckett is authentic. He carries not only this movie, but the next two sequels as well. Why exactly there are a total of FOUR Sniper movies to date is unknown, but like Steve Guttenberg after the first three Police Academy movies, he realized it was time to bail. Billy Zane is Miller, the guy who has no confirmed kills but is still trying to assert his authority and so is in something of a moral quandary. He does a good job at that as well. J.T. Walsh was in one scene. We would have liked to have seen more Walsh.
And while Sniper could have been a lot dumber, it’s really not that dumb. Thankfully, there are no stupid jokes and corny humor either. We really appreciated that. This easily could have devolved into a Mercenary 2 (1999)-type slog. On the technical front, there are the high tech bullet and reticule effects which were perfect for their time and predate The Matrix (1999). They seemed designed specifically for teenagers of the 90’s to go “Woah.” in true Joey Lawrence fashion. Speaking of the 90’s, Beckett speaks about “feeling the rush”, which is a very 90’s thing to say. Clearly, killing someone from a long distance makes you thirsty for Mountain Dew. Note that Beckett does not talk about “feeling the rush” in the sequels, which were filmed in the 2000’s.
Of the three Sniper movies we’ve seen, this first one is the best one. If jungle action floats your boat, you could sure do a lot worse than this initial Sniper offering.
Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett