Sniper is a 1993 military action flick set in the Panamanian jungle. The performances themselves are good, but the less-than-stellar writing and direction result in a picture that will likely only be appreciated by hardcore military film lovers and Tom Berenger acolytes.
The plot centers on Thomas Beckett, an elite, renowned Marine sniper. After Beckett’s spotter is killed by an enemy marksman, Beckett decides to enact his vengeance at the next possible moment. When the U.S. government becomes concerned about the possibility of Panamanian cartels inciting a revolution to make political gains, Beckett is paired with a SWAT marksman, Richard Miller, on a mission to eliminate the criminal leaders. The friction between Beckett’s field mentality and Miller’s lack of war experience produces sparks throughout the vital mission.
The pacing starts out strong but is not sustained as the film progresses. The operation itself is not cut and dried but has a high degree of unpredictability. Although it is respectable from a realistic standpoint – in that missions may not always go as intended – this hampers the pace and is not handled in an enjoyable fashion.
The assignment’s impulsiveness relates to the story structure itself, as it is difficult to discern between the second and third acts. I initially thought the movie was about to end, but was surprised when that was not the case, especially since the conversation was purposeful and presented an effective way to conclude the narrative. I am not saying that every motion picture needs to have an identifiable three act structure, nor should they avoid unexpected turns and continue longer than expected; rather, and ideally, movies should be more polished and cohesive than this. Choppy editing compounds the pacing problems, resulting in abrupt, jarring transitions and discontinuity.
Jungle-themed military action infused with minor revenge qualities inform Sniper’s tone. On the one hand, shortly after the dyad embarks, it becomes clear that the operation is not going according to plan, namely from Miller’s perspective. The emphasis on improvisation and thinking on one's feet is well done. On the other hand, there is a subplot in which Beckett wants to avenge his former spotter. This should have either been omitted or reworked, to be more pivotal to the story. The notion of routine killing in combat is briefly touched upon, but is not nurtured to its full potential. The way in which it is treated is disappointing.
The pairing of Becket and Miller make Sniper seem like a quasi-buddy cop tale set in a military aesthetic. The interactions between the men somewhat resemble that genre. However, buddy cop stories often have a likable and an adversarial character that strike a nice balance. Beckett's and Miller’s displeasing behavior resembles the duo in 48 Hrs., which is fraught with its own troubles. In that regard, such elements are half-baked and Sniper is, as described above, a quasi-buddy cop movie at best.
The acting itself is actually pretty good. Tom Berenger and Billy Zane’s Thomas Beckett and Richard Miller, respectively, are well acted. They have solid on-screen chemistry that effectively depicts their competing military and civilian molds. Whether it be positive or negative, there is also some interesting development. Character growth notwithstanding, Beckett and Miller remain unlikable.
In watching Sniper, I had a sense that the actors had limited material to work with in the first place. The characters themselves are all over the place and are caught in a perpetual, bipolar cycle that lasts until the credits. They may seem amiable enough in some scenes, but are abominable in others. Better writing and directing would have been beneficial. Perhaps Berenger and Zane would have been able to hone their performances had the character construction itself been better.
Sniper’s cinematography and production design are decent. The cinematography is creative, albeit inconsistent. The opening sequence is particularly strong. Great shooting stance compositions are highlighted, which is to be expected from a film entitled Sniper. Several sequences serve as notable homages to Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, and, depending on your view of bandanas, The Deer Hunter or First Blood.
Scope overlays are also included, though I preferred seeing Berenger’s traditional scope, not Miller’s high-tech, cheesy optics. The bullet tracking sequences added unique, contemporary flare, but I was not particularly fond of them. The sets and wardrobe are nice and complement the jungle motif. The ghillie suits and face paint create convincing camouflage that looks great on screen.
Sniper’s pacing, writing, editing, and directing issues result in a final product that should have been more refined. These drawbacks are reflective of Luis “Lucho” Llosa’s direction. The uneven editing is inexcusable and better direction should have been provided for the actors. It is unclear if this specific problem was more indicative of the writing or directing, but Llosa’s position afforded him the ability to tweak the script if needed; he should have done so.
In conclusion, Sniper’s intriguing premise is soured by its numerous problems. Thinking of it as a pseudo-buddy cop adventure might make it more palatable. It may even help reconcile the characters’ traits and behavior, but it is missing the balance that is expected with those films. Considering it as such is not a panacea for its other problems.
Though it is entertaining, viewers should know that Sniper is a B-level action feature. If you are an enthusiast of marksmen-focused action or if you admire Tom Berenger, you will likely enjoy it. For everyone else, it is not a must-see. If you never see it, you will not be missing much.
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Production: Baltimore Pictures; Iguana Producciones; Sniper Productions
Director: Luis Llosa
Producer: Robert L. Rosen
Screenwriter: Michael Frost Beckner; Crash Leyland
Director of Photography: Bill Butler
Editor: M. Scott Smith
Art Direction: Nicholas McCallum
Set Decoration: Leanne Cornish; Angus Tattle
Music: Gary Chang
Release Date: January 29, 1993 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Laboratory: Atlab Film Laboratory
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Copyright Holder: Sniper Productions
Cast: Tom Berenger; Billy Zane; J. T. Walsh; Aden Young; Ken Radley
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Rating: R; Descriptors: Strong violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hour and 38 minutes (98 mins.)
 http://www.filmratings.com/Search?filmTitle=Sniper&x=33&y=13. Note the date provided is 1992. This appears to be a mistake in the listing.