During a Mission in a country "we are not supposed to be in", Sniper Bob Lee Swagger and his spotter Donnie Fenn are deemed to be expendable and are forced to find their own way out. Donnie is killed. Thirty-six months later, Swagger reluctantly leaves a self-imposed exile from his isolated mountain home in the Wind River Range after Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) asks him to help track down an assassin who is planning to shoot the president. Johnson gives him a list of three cities that the President is scheduled to visit, and Swagger assesses a site in Philadelphia as the most likely. The situation turns out to be a set-up; while Swagger is working with Johnson's agents Jack Payne (Elias Koteas) to find the rumored assassin, the Ethiopian archbishop is instead shot while standing next to the president. Swagger is then shot twice by a city police officer and falls out of a window, but manages to escape. Payne tells the police that Swagger is the Shooter, and this unleashes a manhunt for the injured sniper. However, Swagger meets rookie FBI special agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña), proclaims his innocence, disarms the agent, and steals his car. Memphis is blamed for Swagger's escape and is informed that he will face disciplinary review, but argues that, given Swagger's training and experience, it is surprising that the president survived and the archbishop standing several feet away was killed.
Swagger takes refuge with Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara), widow of his late spotter and close friend, who helps treat one of his bullet wounds. He later convinces Sarah to help him and contacts Agent Memphis with information on the conspiracy. Memphis had been independently investigating evidence that Swagger may have been framed for the assassination, and is further made suspicious when he learns that the officer who shot Swagger was himself shot dead hours later in a "mugging".
When the agents realize their secret is compromised, they kidnap Memphis and attempt to stage his suicide. Swagger pursues them and kills Memphis's captors. The two then join forces and visit a firearms expert (Levon Helm) who provides information on the FBI's ballistics report and a short list of people capable of taking a successful shot from a distance of one mile or more. Armed with the information and the realization they have actually found the last man alive who could have shot the archbishop, Swagger and Memphis plot to capture the ex-sniper, Mikhaylo Sczerbiak (Rade Šerbedžija), who they now know is the real assassin. Swagger and Memphis find Sczerbiak, who commits suicide after stating that the archbishop was actually the real target and was murdered to prevent him from revealing U.S. involvement in the massacre of an Eritrean village. (The massacre was carried out on behalf of a consortium of American corporate oil interests headed by corrupt Senator Charles Meachum (Ned Beatty).) Swagger records Sczerbiak's confession about the African massacre; in that confession, he also reveals that Swagger and his spotter Don were not supposed to survive. With Memphis's assistance, Swagger escapes from an ambush by mercenaries.
Payne and other rogue agents kidnap Sarah to lure Swagger out of hiding. It is suggested that a restrained and bruised Sarah has been raped by her captor, Jack Payne. With new evidence and a cat and mouse strategy, Swagger and Memphis are able to rescue Sarah when Colonel Johnson and Senator Meachum arrange a meeting to exchange their hostage for the evidence of their wrongdoing. Swagger shoots several men who attempt to ambush him and seriously wounds Payne. Sarah picks up a gun and finishes Payne off. After Swagger destroys the recorded confession (reasoning that he and Memphis will be killed if the recording is not destroyed), they allow the Senator to escape before surrendering to the FBI.
Swagger is brought before U.S. attorney general Russert and the FBI director in a closed-door meeting; Colonel Johnson, Memphis, and Sarah are also present. Swagger quickly clears his name by loading a round into his rifle (which is present as evidence, since it was supposedly used in the assassination), aiming it at the Colonel, and pulling the trigger, which fails to fire. Swagger explains that every time he leaves his house, he removes the firing pins from all his guns, replacing them with slightly shorter ones and thus rendering them inoperable until he returns. Although Swagger is exonerated, Colonel Johnson cannot be charged with the assassination; furthermore, the Eritrean massacre was outside American legal jurisdiction. After Johnson smugly leaves the room, the Attorney General tells Swagger that justice does not always prevail in today's world, stating, "it's not the Wild West where you can clean up the streets with a gun, even though sometimes that's exactly what's needed." Russert then orders Swagger released.
At Senator Meachum's home, Johnson and the Senator celebrate and plan their next move. Swagger breaks in and kills both conspirators and their men, blowing up the house to cover his tracks. In a final scene, Swagger drives away with Sarah.Mark Wahlberg as Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee SwaggerMichael Peña as Special Agent Nick MemphisDanny Glover as Colonel Isaac JohnsonKate Mara as Sarah FennNed Beatty as Senator Charles F. MeachumElias Koteas as Jack PayneRhona Mitra as Special Agent Alourdes GalindoJonathan Walker as Brent DobblerJustin Louis as Special Agent Howard PurnellTate Donovan as Russ TurnerRade Šerbedžija as Mikhaylo SczerbiakLane Garrison as Lance Corporal Donnie FennAlan C. Peterson as Philadelphia police Department Officer Stanley TimmonsBrian Markinson as Attorney General RussertLevon Helm as Mr. RateMike Dopud as Lead mercenaryDean McKenzie as ArchbishopLogan as Bob Lee Swagger's Dog
Most of the film was shot on location in New Westminster, Kamloops, Mission, Ashcroft and Cache Creek in British Columbia, Canada. For example, Swagger's escape was filmed in New Westminster along the Fraser River. The car chase that ends when it plunged into the river was filmed down 6th Street and off the Westminster Quay. The following scene of Swagger clinging to the side of a dredger was also filmed on the Fraser River near the Pattullo Bridge.
The assassination scenes were filmed in Independence National Historical Park in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The sniper location was created from using the exteriors of the church steeple at the junction of New Street and North 4th Street and combining them with an elevated view from another building to create a fictional vista of the park. The final scene was shot on Benton Crossing Rd, California.
Weapons and tactics
Shooter depicts a number of sniper tactics, thanks to the guidance of former U.S. Marine scout sniper Patrick Garrity, who trained Mark Wahlberg for the film. Garrity taught Wahlberg to shoot both left and right-handed (the actor is left-handed), as he had to switch shooting posture throughout the movie, due to Swagger's sustained injuries. He was also trained to adjust a weapon's scope, judge effects of wind on a shot, do rapid bolt manipulation and develop special breathing skills. His training included extreme distance shooting (up to 1,100 yards/1,006 m), and the use of camouflage ghillie suits. Fuqua appointed Garrity as the film's military technical advisor.
In the special features of the DVD, Garrity is interviewed pointing out that the shot fired in the assassination would not have hit the archbishop straight on, as in the film. When a round is fired it will fall from 30–40 feet (9.1-12.2 m) depending on the distance of the shot. To compensate, the round is fired at an arc calibrated by how far the round is going to fall, the distance of the shot, temperature, humidity and wind. In his interview Garrity said "At 1,800 yards (1,646 m), because of the hydrostatic shock that follows a large caliber, high velocity round such as the .408 Chey Tac (which is used in the shot), the target would literally be peeled apart and limbs would be flying 200 feet (61 m) away." The exit wound on the archbishop's head would have been too extreme to show in movie theaters. Instead, the movie depicts a much less graphic representation of the assassination.
Throughout the film, Swagger uses an array of sniper rifles, among which are the USMC M40A3, the CheyTac Intervention, and the Barrett M82. Donnie Fenn used an M4A1 with a Cobray 37mm Launcher (commonly used by TV and movie armorers as a stand-in for the M203 grenade launcher) and M68 Close Combat Optic in the African opening sequences. A pair of Remington 700Ps were bought by Swagger and Memphis while on the run. Other weapons used by Swagger include a Beretta M9 and a commandeered M4A1 with an Aimpoint Sight, in the fight against the 24 mercenaries and a Colt M1911-A1 and a suppressed M4A1 in the final scene. Fenn's old .22 rifle that Swagger used on the lake scene is a Cooey model 60.
The score to the film was composed by Mark Mancina, who recorded the music at the Todd-AO Scoring Stage in Studio City, Los Angeles, using a 77–piece orchestra conducted by Don Harper. A score soundtrack was released by Lakeshore Records on March 27, 2007. The song "Nasty Letter" by Otis Taylor plays over the end of the film and credits.
Shooter grossed $47 million in the U.S. and Canada and $48.7 million in other territories, for a total gross of $95.7 million against its $61 million budget.
The film grossed $14.5 million in its opening weekend, finishing in 3rd at the box office behind TMNT ($24.3 million) and 300 ($19.9 million).
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 48% approval rating based on 147 reviews; the average rating is 5.6/10. The site's consensus reads, "With an implausible story and numerous plot holes, Shooter fails to distinguish itself from other mindless action-thrillers." Metacritic assigns the film a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Empire magazine praised the movie: "The sequel-ready Swagger challenges Bourne's supremacy with an impressive shoot-'em-up, work-it-out action drama".
Some film critics saw the film as definitely left-leaning in its politics, including arguing that the main villain (Senator Meachum) is an analogy for then Vice President Dick Cheney.
The DVD was released on June 26, 2007, reaching the top of the US sales charts.
In 2016, USA Network picked up a series of the same name based on the movie, with Wahlberg as a producer and Ryan Phillippe as Swagger.