There's an appeal to the sniper's art -- the snick and snap of each hand-pulled bolt, the blue-steel poetry of it. Each cycle of the firing mechanism is as brief and constrained as a haiku, one that says the same thing over and over again: Die. Based on the novel by thriller writer and film critic Stephen Hunter (The Day Before Midnight, Pale Horse Coming), Shooter is an attempt to capture the essence of the sniper -- that most existential yet intimate of murders, where you shoot from a distance, killing one by one. Mark Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger; when we meet Bob Lee, he's with Marine Force Recon, loaned out to shady suit-clad types in the name of some greater good. When Bob Lee's spotter Donnie (Lane Garrison) pulls a picture out of his fiancée out of his spotter's notebook, we sigh -- might as well be a boat called the Live Forever -- but we kind of accept that scenes like this are a necessary preamble in a certain kind of thriller, the overture before the curtain goes up.

Fade to black, and a title card tells us it is 36 months later, and Bob Lee is living in the woods with a tragic past, and an even more tragic ponytail. Men are looking for Bob Lee -- men with work to do. Led by Danny Glover, they explain that intercepted communiqués indicate someone will try to kill the President from a mile out with a single shot during scheduled appearances in our nation's capital, or Baltimore or Philadelphia. Not many people in the world could make that shot -- but Bob Lee could, so they want him to tell them where to look for the would-be assassin. He's an expert. He's a patriot. He's a patsy.