snipers, myself included. Growing up, I think I watched this movie in today's review a couple hundreds time courtesy of countless airings on TNT and AMC. Well, it's been years, but I watched it straight through for the first time in years. It's the original and still the best in a franchise that has spawned four sequels, 1993's Sniper.
With a long career under his belt, Master Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Beckett (Tom Berenger) is the Marine Corps' most respected sniper, piling up 70-plus confirmed kills. His last mission though was a costly one, his young spotter killed because of an early extraction following a successful kill. He doesn't have long to dwell on it though as a new mission and orders come through for him. Working with an inexperienced SWAT sharpshooter with NSC connections, Richard Miller (Billy Zane), Beckett is tasked with going deep into the Panamanian jungle with two objectives. An election is coming up and intelligence indicates a drug lord will back a general who will lead a violent coup, all of it against American interests. Beckett and Miller must take out both men, both of whom are expected to meet at a well-guarded villa in the jungle. They butt heads almost immediately, Miller in command but Beckett with the know-how. Can they make it through this suicide mission?
Oh, my, how fast the time flies. I was only 8 years old when 'Sniper' was first released in theaters, but this action flick was a cable TV staple in the late 1990s. Young, impressionable me soaked it up and watched it over and over again. It doesn't quite hold up as well 20-plus years later, but it's still an above average action flick. From director Luis Llosa, it was filmed on-location in Australia and feels familiar. If you've seen war movies, sniper flicks, you've most likely seen variations on this story. It tries to accomplish a lot, delving into the background and mindset of snipers, but is most comfortable in the moments on a jungle creep inching closer to a shot and a kill. Small scale with less than 10 speaking parts, it's the better for the focus on Beckett and Miller.
Two actors who never quite became as big a star as they could have, Berenger and Zane are excellent together. This isn't a buddy dynamic as the duo heads into the jungle. This is a rivalry, a conflict, eventually a life and death struggle as the mission develops. Berenger is at his tough, growling best as veteran sniper Thomas Beckett. He's near the end of his career but still has few rivals. He tries to get Miller through the message but the inexperienced spotter and fellow shooter isn't having it. As they travel to the jungle villa, we get to know the duo through their conversations, tough guy dialogue about their experiences, how they got here, and where they hope to end up. Again, familiar but enjoyable. Zane doesn't get lost in Berenger's shadow, holding his own. There are some surprising twists in the mission as Beckett and Miller genuinely come to blows and more as the pressure becomes too much.
This is a movie about those two roles. The targets are targets. That's it. No backgrounds, just guys who need to be killed. Some other key parts include J.T. Walsh as Beckett's commander back at base, Aden Young as the spotter in the opening mission, and Ken Radley as El Cirujano, a former CIA operative now working as an enforcer for the drug cartels. Naturally, he's got some history with our Mr. Beckett.
For the small scale, generally low budget flick, 'Sniper' tries its best when it comes to the action and the good, old-fashioned shooting scenes. The violence is quick and startling with only some use of slow motion (thankfully), and that comes in death throws as nameless baddies take a bullet. With a 98-minute flick, there isn't a ton of action, heavy duty action at least. The first hour there's some quick shots, some fire fights but nothing crazy. That's saved for the finale as Beckett and Miller descend on the villa to take their shots amidst guards and patrols. It's a really cool, straightforward action scene that's packed to the guts with tension. The entire last half hour is the movie at its strongest, a series of twists and surprises and chases and shootouts, including one very genuine, truly surprising twist.
It's a good movie, obviously not a great one. It has its limits, but as far as non-blockbuster action movies go, it's pretty good. Who would have figured back in 1993 that it would inspire four sequels, starting in 2002 and continuing more recently with 2011's Sniper: Reloaded and 2014's Sniper Legacy? Overall, it is a fun, progressively mindless series, and it's always cool to see where it all started. Now how about another sequel with Beckett, Miller and Chad Michael Collins as Beckett's similarly skilled sniper son? Get on it, Hollywood!
Sniper (1993): ***/****