A sniper’s relationship with his target is intimate yet remote, a psychologically complex dance that filmmakers often rely on to challenge the way killing is portrayed and to provide a more mature perspective than your average action movie bloodbath. The catch-phrase “One shot, one kill, no exceptions” paints a picture of war very different than most mow-’em-down military dramas: Entire battles can be won, lost, or started by one man with one bullet, and the pressure that places on the sniper himself is the stuff of movie legend.
Sniper hit a nerve with audiences not because of its bombastic climax, but because of the taut relationship between seasoned expert Tom Berenger and neophyte Billy Zane. Watching Zane come to terms with the power of killing at a distance builds the tension that ulitmately makes the movie.
Jake Gyllenhaal struggled with the same dilemma in Jarhead, becoming more and more withdrawn and isolated as his prowess as a sniper increased. In Saving Private Ryan,
Barry Pepper’s strained face betrays the mental hurdles he must clear
to keep a cool head on the battlefield. The performance that set the
psychological standard for future isolated gunmen, however, was Frank
Sinatra’s in The Manchurian Candidate.
As the paranoid Major Marco, his war against his suspicions and his own
killer instinct was an early warning to Americans that it was perhaps
harder to leave one’s battlefield training behind than we’d thought.
In any incarnation, the lone gunman has emerged as a hunted, haunted
figure that lets us internalize the hardships of war, while watching
safely from a distance. Thank goodness we have more than one shot at
movies like Sniper, which will be playing on AMC in March and April starting on Thursday the 6th at 8:00 PM | 7C.