There are two faces to Mark Wahlberg. No, not an actor and a rapper. Not even a performer and an underwear model, which is how his career began. He only inhabits two kinds of roles. One kind is intriguing – the kind where we can see emotion behind those permanently slitted eyes.
It was most visible in his role in P.T. Anderson’s love letter to the golden age of porn films Boogie Nights. But there have been shades of it in plenty of his other films, from 1996 Fatal Attraction clone Fear to last year’s Oscar tour de force The Departed as the profane, terminally angry detective Dignam. He drifts towards such performances in some other films, notably The Yards and Four Brothers, but both those movies featured the other side of Wahlberg as well.
That’s the side where he plays another bland, can-do action hero, with none of the charisma we’ve seen him bring to the screen in the past. It’s frustrating because in plenty of his by-numbers thrillers (The Italian Job, Planet of the Apes, The Corruptor), Wahlberg the performer could have saved some very dull scripts and shop-worn plots.
Shooter is an example of such a movie. Directed by the politically dubious Antoine Fuqua, from whom we most recently saw the offensive Bruce Willis vehicle Tears of the Sun, it shakes up the action movie pepper grinder and sprinkles the cliches throughout the script. Little about the movie is inherently bad – it’s well executed, exciting and well paced.
But you just know that after the double cross he’s going to go for help to either a geeky, technology-friendly sidekick or a beautiful woman from his past (he does the latter, the widow of his former squad mate). You just know he’s going to have a decorated father (he does). You just know he’s going to be able to hotwire a car (check), and if the plot called for it, he’d be able to fly a plane as well. The only thing the script left out was someone making reference to him being ‘the best of the best of the best’.
He plays ridiculously-named army sharpshooter Bobby Lee Swagger, who loses his partner on a mission in Africa, where in true Hollywood style, Africans never do anything but drive around in slipshod units of vehicles all mounted with automatic weapons, and when their position is compromised and he loses his partner under fire, we cut forward a few years where he?s a grizzled, bitter conspiracy theorist living in the mountains with his dog.
Of course, some high-level government operatives come to ask his help with nothing to offer but the patriotism he’s rejected and he inexplicably agrees. They believe someone intends to assassinate the President, and as the best of the best of the”¦ (sorry), they need him to tell them how he’d do it so as to foil the real killer. On the appointed day, the killer gets the drop on them all and the shot is taken, but it’s a set-up to make the Swagger look like the killer.
They critically injure him before he escapes to go on the run and clear his name, finding out the plot goes all the way to a crooked Senator (Beatty, AWOL from the movies for so many years). It’s a bit of fun but nothing you haven’t seen before. Wahlberg is yet another of the square-jawed American hero archetype, the kind that’s been part of cinema for a century but has become slightly embarrassing in the age of American global aggression.