Follow TV Tropes


Film / Shooter

Go To

Agent Memphis: You could hire a good lawyer and I'll call the Bureau. They can work out some kind of deal. This is explainable. You can prove that you didn't shoot the Archbishop.
Swagger: I don't think you understand. These boys killed my dog.

Shooter is a 2007 film directed by Antoine Fuqua, based on the 1993 novel Point Of Impact by Stephen Hunter, although it does deviate from the source material in several parts.

Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) is a former Marine Scout Sniper who was disillusioned with the government after he was left behind enemy lines during a mission, only escaping on his own terms.

Yet because he is the best at what he does, he is recruited by the government to help track down a potential sniper, only to become the scapegoat as part of a Government Conspiracy. Swagger goes on the run but knows he has to fight back, with the help of allies like rookie FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña) and his deceased best friend's wife Sarah Fenn (Kate Mara). What they find reveals new details about the mission where Bob was trapped behind enemy lines.


Meanwhile, the widow of Bob's sniper partner is also dragged into the events, and Bob has to save her, though she is not a traditional Damsel in Distress, either.

Shooter enjoyed moderate box office success and mediocre critiques, with a 48% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In its genre, it is a conspiracy thriller and rides on the paranoia of the Bush years. It also owes a lot to The Bourne Series (including the general resemblance between Wahlberg and Matt Damon), although the sniper angle and being rated R works in separating itself from other Follow the Leader types.

Mark Wahlberg is also involved in the television adaptation of Shooter, which is being aired under USA Network.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the book, Bob Lee Swagger is a forty-something man who is described as looking kinda like Clint Eastwood. In the film Bob Lee is played by the young and handsome Mark Wahlberg.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: If you're gonna cross modern political thriller with an 80s style action movie, you need cool names. Thankfully, Bob Lee Swagger fits the bill. Hell, even the sidekick has one: Nick Memphis. In fact, you can tell Nick's going to be significant because he's the only person in the film with a name even half as cool as Swagger.
    • In a later book, Stephen Hunter thanks the man he named Earl and Bob Lee Swagger after.
    • It gets cooler when you realize that Swagger is named after Robert E. Lee; yes, that Robert E Lee
  • Artistic License: The advisor for the film said that the assassination shot that starts up the plot in reality should have made Ludicrous Gibs of the poor guy. But while it would have been more realistic it would have been more graphic than the filmmakers wanted.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Signficantly averted, as Swagger's religious care of his own rifle is a major plot point later in the film. At least two examples of this become significant plot points; see Chekhov's Gun.
  • Artistic License – Military: The film can't seem to decide whether it wants to be grim, gritty and realistic or a flashy action movie. Purely in the first scene, we have
    • A sniper team lying at the exact crest of a hill where their silhouette is easiest to spot.
    • The spotter using notes in a notebook to guess the range rather than a laser rangefinder (it is however implied that he measured necessary reference points beforehand and put them on the notebook's drawing for quick reference).
    • The team not immediately relocating after having served their purpose of area denial (i.e. everyone's stopped and looks for the sniper).
    • That helicopter, after being hit in or under the motor, slowly descending in a classic movie helicopter crash rather than either locking up and tearing its rotor blades apart under the strain or killing everyone in the cockpit by shrapnel.
  • Anti-Climax: Col. Johnson's death. The movie sets him as a properly badass anti-Swagger, but in the end he is easily dispatched by an unseen Swagger by being shot in the throat.
  • As Long as There is Evil: The conspiracy is a depressing modern equivalent.
    Michael Sandor: There is no head to cut off. It's a conglomerate. If one of them betrays the principles of the accrual of money and power, the others betray him. What it is is human weakness. You can't kill that with a gun.
  • Assassins Are Always Betrayed: This is mentioned in the film, with a man claiming that the real killers of JFK were themselves killed and buried in the desert within hours of the assassination. The actual conspiracy plays with it: The real assassin is high ranking enough to avoid this happening immediately, but when leads on Swagger dry up he's bluntly informed he'll be used as bait to draw him out (he has after-all outlived his usefulness). Whether or not he survives this is uncertain, "that's the danger of bait after all".
  • BFG: Bob's Cheyenne Tactical M200 Intervention which he supposedly used to try assassinate the president, and hit the Ethiopian archbishop. Even bigger is the Barrett .50 cal he uses against the helicopter in the opening scene.
  • Bald of Evil: One of the three assassins sent after Nick Memphis has one.
  • Beard of Evil: The other two assassins sent after Memphis sport these.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Colonel Isaac Johnson and Senator Charles Meachum.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Johnson, Meachum and their co-conspirators cannot be connected to killing the Archbishop and cannot be held responsible for sacking the African village on another continent, but Swagger gets justice anyway by personally murdering them all and then blowing up the cabin their bodies are in. If he's able to destroy all the evidence connected to him, he won't have to go on the run and even if he does, he's prevented the group's next terrorist scheme in the process.
  • Black Helicopter: The Private Military Contractors use an unmarked, heavily-armed black helicopter in an attempt to kill Swagger.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Swagger makes a long-range sniper shot to blow a gun in half Payne is using to threaten his hostage; it looks like shrapnel was propelled into his hand, possibly taking off part of his finger. Subverted seconds later when, while Payne expresses admiration at the first shot, Swagger fires again and blows off his arm just below the elbow.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: When Bob Lee shows up to Sarah's house, she calls 911 but immediately has a change of heart and hangs up. When they call back per procedure, she tells them that she got scared because an animal knocked over her trash cans.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": At the climax:
    Swagger: Search [the Senator].
    Senator: I don't carry a weapon. (Memphis reaches toward him)Ordinarily. I'm licensed to carry that in this State.
    • Also heavily implied at the end by the Attorney General, who, despite giving Swagger the "this is the real world" speech about how he can't go around cleaning up the streets with gunfire, notes that in some cases that is exactly what is needed, and then lets Swagger go. Judging from Swagger's capabilities and what happened to the last guy who screwed him over, the AG had no doubts what Swagger would do if released, and more or less said, "I can't do anything about these assholes, but you can."
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Well, Chekhov's firing pin anyway. We see Bob doing something to his rifle just before he leaves for the mission. It turns out to be extremely important.
    • When Swagger and the government team are in place, preparing to apprehend the alleged assassin. Swagger notices the cop in the room has his service pistol unsecured and points it out.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Sarah, the wife of Swagger's late partner Donnie, who proves to be helpful to Swagger following the assassination.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sarah was mentioned by Donnie in the opening that she was just about to enter Medical School. Now guess who Swagger goes to once he's framed...
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: Memphis is a good guy by virtue of deciding to help Swagger find the perpetrators behind the Government Conspiracy and more, while corrupt members of the CIA are hunting down Swagger because He Knows Too Much about said conspiracy.
  • Clear My Name
  • Cold Sniper: Bob, but Sandor is downright sadistic, and is wheelchair-bound, as when his location was discovered during a battle, his opponents took no chances and targeted him with the artillery. note 
  • Colonel Badass / Retired Badass: Colonel (retired) Johnson. His role in the movie is more of a Smug Snake / Corrupt Bureaucrat, but at the beginning he shows Swagger a Medal of Honor. This is the highest combat decoration a US military member can receive, requires an act of Congress to issue, and it's very often awarded posthumously.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: As mentioned in the movie, what is the best moment to kill the archbishop of Ethiopia, who will expose the atrocities that the Government Conspiracy has done for the sake of continuing to line their pockets? By shooting him dead while he's standing right next to the President of the United States, and make people believe that the shooter missed his "real" target!
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Swagger, though he knows they're more than just theories. Memphis becomes one as his investigation into the shooting makes him question his own agency and he finds out about the mass murder of innocent civilians over a US-owned pipeline.
    • Taken Up to Eleven with Mr. Rate, the conspiracy expert that Bob and Nick visit:
    Mr. Rate: That's how conspiracy works. Them boys on the grassy knoll, they were dead within three hours. Buried in the damn desert. Unmarked graves out past Terlingua.
    Nick Memphis: And you know this for a fact?
    Mr. Rate: Still got the shovel!
  • Crazy-Prepared: Bob's switching out of the firing pins on his rifles. Also the improvised explosives he sets up before he confronts Sandor.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Bob after the Ethiopia mission.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Payne taunts Swagger, claiming that he has no shot on him (A headshot would have triggered a spasm that would have fired the shotgun pointed at Sarah). Swagger responds by shooting him in the hand, destroying the trigger. And follows up by blowing his arm off.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: An innocent man made a scapegoat for an assassination attempt on a President while the actual shooter was somewhere else entirely? Sounds a lot like Who Shot JFK?.
  • Establishing Character Moment: We know Swagger's the best sniper because in the opening scene he snipes a helicopter down. Granted, the Barrett .50 cal anti-materiel rifle pretty much designed for this, but no one can doubt his marksmanship of sniping off a helicopter's swashplate while it is actively strafing him.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Bob's spotter just had to show a picture of his wife before they were assaulted. It's like Antoine Fuqua wanted to step into the shot, wave at the viewers, and yell "this man is about to die!" though a megaphone. But considering the rest of the movie, it's understandable why they did it.
  • Fiery Coverup: Swagger does this at the end of the film, breaking the gas line in the Senator's cabin after shooting them all, presumably to disguise all the bullet wounds. Once the gas hits the open flame in the fireplace...
  • The Film of the Book: Based off a book by Washington Post movie critic Stephen Hunter, fairly loosely.
  • Foreshadowing: Near the opening of the film, Johnson and his friends mention that the CIA guy overseeing the operation that hung Bob and his spotter out to dry died mysteriously shortly thereafter, though they never pinned anything on Bob. Guess what happens to those same men near the end of the film?
  • Framing the Guilty Party: After getting a strong hint from the AG to assassinate the bad guys, Swagger goes rambo on them at an alpine retreat, killing everyone with a pistol, then planting the pistol in Johnson's cold dead hands. Then he knocks a gas valve loose and lets the fireplace do the rest. Given that the Attorney General "hinted" for Swagger to do this, it's also likely the FBI will not work too hard investigating this anyway.
  • "Get out of Jail Free" Card: In the end, Swagger is acquitted of the crime he was framed for, the assassination of an African archbishop, by proving that the murder weapon could not have been used, thus he could not have fired it. This seems perfectly logical, but no one, not even the incognito Big Bad who was sitting right next to the war council, seems to address the fact that Swagger killed probably a bunch of men and caused untold amounts of property damage between the beginning of the film and now in his quest for vengeance.
    • Somewhat justified in that Swagger could just as easily say that he was trying to get answers, and the other guys shot at him first, and thus he was defending himself. Obviously it's Blatant Lies, but, considering none of the individuals that tried to kill him are alive to counter the argument, but they don't exist anyway.
    • There's also the fact that bad guys clean up after themselves. An FBI agent mentions that they found a downed helicopter, a lot of blood, and a shit ton of casings, but no bodies at the farmhouse shootout.
  • Gorn: Especially in the shootout in the snowy mountains.
  • The Government: Evil as usual. Parts of it. The scene at the end shows some of it is still working since Bob Lee shouldn't have been able to leave that quickly.
  • Government Conspiracy: What Swagger, Memphis, and eventually Sarah get stumbled into, and what Johnson is part of. A cover-up of an incident involving slaughtering African villagers so that a US-owned pipeline could be constructed in the region, led by both Johnson and a corrupt US Senator.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Bob Lee Swagger. Lee may be a reference to Lee Harvey Oswald. Swagger to military joke; bullet trajectory calculations are sometimes called "SWAG" — Sophisticated Wild-Ass Guess (Or Scientific Wild-Assed Guess. As said by Carlos Hathcock). Swagger is the name of a man the author knew. He borrowed the man's name for both Swaggers.
  • He Knows Too Much: Anyone who knows about and/or part of the Government Conspiracy and/or is no longer of use to the antagonists is dealt with. Swagger, Memphis, the policeman who shot Swagger, everyone for them is fair game.
  • I Have Your Wife: The bad guys kidnap Sarah, which makes Bob realize how much he cares for her.
    Nick Memphis: I didn't know you had a woman.
    Bob Lee Swagger: Neither did I... until they took her.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted. Swagger switches to shooting left handed after Sarah patches him up when he notes that his right shoulder is a bit stiff.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Justified as Swagger needs to improvise in order to save Memphis, reasoning that anything is better than nothing, but not specifically needing professional equipment.
    • Though it is possible to make a homemade suppressor for a .22 rifle. The suppressor was also filled with water which would also dampen the gunshot.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Well, yes. It's part of why Memphis believes Swagger didn't commit the assassination - how could someone with said skills miss by a good two feet?
  • It's Personal
    Agent Memphis: You could hire a good lawyer and I'll call the Bureau. They can work out some kind of deal. This is explainable. You can prove that you didn't shoot the Archbishop.
    Swagger: I don't think you understand. These boys killed my dog.
  • Just Between You and Me: Played with. When Swagger confronts Sandor, the villain's plan has already happened. Instead, Sandor explains what they did, why they did it, and the role Swagger played in it. Also justified, in that a heavily armed kill team was coming and Sandor had to delay him until they got there. Swagger would've known if he was lying, so he had to tell the truth.
  • Kick the Dog: The conspirators shoot Bob's dog when they retrieved one of his rifles from his house.
  • Little Useless Gun: Averted. Swagger makes very effective use of a .22 when rescuing Memphis.
  • The Moral Substitute: Sometimes called a left-wing action movie.
    • Bob is seen reading and keeps a copy of the 9/11 commission report on his desk. In another scene, Nick is wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt.
    • Bob's deep suspicion for all things government can be explained by him losing his best friend and being left to die behind enemy lines during a mission that will never be made public. Nick, bright-eyed FBI agent, wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt...not so much. True, he needed a change of clothes after his "session" with the Colonel's torture techs, so he had to wear what he could find in a hurry, but where does one find a Che Guevara shirt in rural Tennessee?
    • Somewhat ironic since a whole chapter in the book is devoted to the media's reaction to the assassination and their twisting of the facts, which at least one columnist uses to push for a gun ban.
    • Stephen Hunter refuses to pick a side. He thinks the bureaucracy is dumb, but is in favor of some of it. A good example is that though he is opposed to gun bans, he is a dedicated supporter of registration.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The first live shot of Sarah on screen is of her in her kitchen, wearing a white pajama top with a noticeably thin weave. She spends the rest of the scene after letting in Bob Lee trying to keep her bathrobe on. She spends the majority of the movie disguised in a low-cut blouse and then in her bra, both tied up and not.
    • Alourdes is briefly seen in her nightgown in one scene.
  • Murder by Mistake: Inverted. The conspirators choose to assassinate their target when he is standing next to the US President, knowing that everyone will assume it was a botched attempt on the president's life and the victim wasn't the intended target.
  • Murder by Suicide: The antagonists employ a device that, when strapped to a victims arm, uses a series of pulleys to force the victim to put a gun against their head and pull the trigger, literally physically forcing them to kill themselves. One of the operatives trying to force Memphis to "kill" himself tells him that it's worked very well before and the first thing Swagger says once he sees it is "what kind of sicko thought this up?"
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Many believe that the corrupt US Senator played by Ned Beatty was intended by the director to be a stand-in for Dick Cheney.
  • Old Master: In order to answer some of his questions, Swagger enlists the help of an aging gunsmith (played by The Band drummer Levon Helm), who proceeds to steal the entire scene.
  • Offscreen Karma: One part of Bob Lee Swagger's Establishing Character Moment is when the men of the Government Conspiracy read through his dossier, mentioning that the bastard Intelligence agent which left him and his friend behind enemy lines to die was "mysteriously" killed and nobody was able to pin anything on Swagger, so they gave him a honorable discharge. They're smart enough to read between the lines ("I guess he didn't consider himself expendable")...and still underestimate him.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted. Bob is shot in the shoulder and leg during the frame-up. He escapes, but moves with a limp. He's uses a first-aid kit to stop his bleeding. Later he makes a makeshift IV and dressing for his wounds. He still requires medical care to properly treat them, and get the bullets out. In fact, his shoulder never fully heals and he switches to shooting left handed for the rest of the film.
  • Orgy of Evidence: The conspiracy's slew of clues to set-up Swagger as the killer is this, and it does drive the investigating agencies to believe that Swagger did it. The reason why Memphis doesn't believes it's Swagger at first is because 1) Swagger is a top-notch sniper capable of impossible shots, and there is no way he wouldn't have hit the President (the assumed target) in the conditions at the time, 2) the evidence arrived to the government offices barely minutes after the shooting (while the crime scene was still closed and the pursuit for Swagger was still starting), making him suspicious of the absurd efficiency and speed of its delivery, compounded by the fact that nobody in his office knows where all the evidence came from, and 3) not only did the cop that allegedly discovered Swagger provide a story that sounded a bit ridiculous to those with knowledge of sniper tactics, but the cop was shot dead in an alleged mugging just hours after giving his statement, which sounds even more suspicious.
  • Playing Possum: Swagger is badly wounded after being shot twice, but as a highly trained Marine Scout Sniper he is far from disabled. He plays up his injuries so FBI Agent Memphis will get close to him, then quickly disarms him and steals his car.
  • Pull the I.V.: Swagger does this to himself; he's been shot and knows he's going into shock from blood loss, so he improvises an IV set using aquarium tubing, plastic soda bottles, and a basting needle. Once he's bolused himself with a liter or so of homemade sugar-salt solution, he yanks the line out and continues on his merry badass way.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: In the book, Swagger was a Vietnam Shell-Shocked Veteran, meaning you'd need to cast Tommy Lee Jones to maintain his Action Hero status. Substituting the Gulf War enabled them to maintain the Present Day setting with a younger Swagger. The rest is translated faithfully... except the opening sequence where Swagger covers the evac of the operation the Archbishop was killed to suppress.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Averted.
  • Private Military Contractors: Where the Mooks that aren't rogue members of the CIA come from.
  • Properly Paranoid: Bob Lee Swagger is this in spades, as evidenced by the Chekhov's Gun entry. Let's expand that a bit: Taking the firing pins out of his rifles when he puts them away would be just as effective at preventing accidents or unauthorized use. But Bob goes the extra mile and replaces them with custom-modified pins that will not fire - every time he leaves home. The only reason for this would be to fool someone who was deliberately trying to frame him. Which means he planned for that exact scenario. The book makes it clear that while he agrees to work with the government to stop the assassination, he doesn't trust them, and decides to prepare for specific eventualities.note 
  • Reality Ensues: The climax of the film is about four or five of these, stacked on top of each other like Jenga. Specifically:
    • Swagger refuses to accept the evidence that will free him, reasoning it too poisonous, with the conspirators having extra incentive to keep trying to kill him as long as he holds it.
    • By virtue of the above, Swagger is arrested and the conspirators seem to win.
    • Johnson gets a mild Shut Up, Hannibal! moment by the Attorney General telling him that Screw the Rules, I Have Connections! doesn't allows him to walk away from Swagger's hearing.
    • Swagger frees himself by means of his own backup plan.
    • Despite this, the Attorney General cannot make anything stick to the Colonel, who gets off scot-free and is able to carry on doing the same thing he was doing before.
    • Finally, Swagger decides not to take this lying down (just as after Donny's death, to which he responded by murdering the CIA agents responsible for the set up) choosing instead to massacre all the conspiracy leaders in one fell swoop. And despite the Colonel being worked up as a badass and Swagger's equal, he's the first one of the leaders killed, and taken out with a single shot - as a sniper would do.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: When the policeman who shot at Bob dies a few days later "in a botched robbery", Nick sees right through it.
    Galindo: Bad things happen to good people.
    Nick: Yeah, not that fast, they don't.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Memphis ends up compiling all of the intel related to Swagger's pastimes and achievements in his office in this manner.
  • Scope Snipe: Obligatory, for a sniper movie. Happens during the mountaintop confrontation.
  • Self-Surgery: Bob's initial patchup, though unusually he follows it up by seeking proper attention from a (semi-)trained nurse.
  • Shown Their Work: Quite a few examples, most stemming from the semi-Backed by the Pentagon bits in the special features. In order we have:
    • Snipers taking notes on ranges for their areas of operation to quickly figure out how far a potential target is.
    • The CheyTac Intervention that Swagger shoots the can of soup with comes with a range computer to run the calculations needed for extreme range shots. In a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, you can see the computer next to Swagger when he shoots the soup can.
    • In a deleted scene, Swagger chews out Memphis for trying to buy some Woodland BDUs at the store, pointing out that they don't really know the terrain that well, or the opposition, and that using store-bought camo would have no effect against trained killers.
    • During the battle in the farm, Swagger not only shoots left handednote , but also performs a proper SPORTSnote  on his commandeered M4 when it jams in the midst of the fire fight.
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: A helicopter is taken down by shooting a propane tank it was hovering above.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: This is implied towards the end of the film as the protagonist tries to bring down a corrupt senator, a colonel, and a group of Private Military Contractors. The film even includes the "This is the "real world" type of speech from the Attorney General towards Bob Lee Swagger. Of course, his Exact Words are...
    "For the record, I don't like how this turned out any more than you do. But this is the world we live in. And justice does not always prevail. It's not the wild west where you can clean up the streets with a gun. Even though sometimes it's exactly what is needed... Bob Lee Swagger, you're free to go." So Swagger goes straight to the senator's cabin and shoots all of them.
  • Situational Hand Switch: Bob, who's normally right handed, got his right shoulder wounded 1/3 into the movie, and has to resort to shooting with his left after that. Even after it's healed, his right shoulder becomes stiff, so he keeps using his left.
  • Smug Snake: Col. Johnson just can't resist rubbing it in.
    "I win. You lose. Again."
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Attorney General Russert gets a great line about why Colonel Johnson must stay for the proceedings. Possibly doubles as Badass Bureaucrat:
    Colonel Johnson: What the hell am I doing here? You've got nothing on me. I'm covered. Call the Joint Chief.
    Attorney General Russert: That won't be necessary, Colonel, as I have already received no less than a dozen calls from highly-ranked and powerfully-placed individuals telling me to let you go. But the joy of checks and balances in our government is that I can, and am, indeed, required by law, to tell them to fuck off.
  • Spotting the Thread:
    • Nick Memphis is tipped off that something isn't quite right when the government investigation into the Ethiopian Arch-Bishop is too efficient. To be exact, despite the scene of the shooting still being locked down twelve minutes after the shooting - with FBI helicopters yet to begin pursuit, the ballistics report arrives just ten minutes later.
    Nick Memphis: We work for the federal government. We're not that good at our jobs.
    • The first thing that tips him off that something's wrong is that nobody has any idea where any of the massive amount of evidence he's been examining actually came from, simply that it showed up.
    • Nick was also able to see right through Timmons' story of seeing a rifle barrel sticking out of a window. And correctly points out that no sniper does that. They instead, sit back further in the room, and shoot from there, which reduces the risk of getting hit by return fire from enemy soldiers.
      • Although Nick does not mention it, there is a second reason for that: if the gun is far from the window, it reduces the sound that reaches outside.
    • Nick also correctly deduces that someone as highly skilled a sniper as Swagger simply couldn't miss by such a wide margin, since he's capable of shooting a silver dollar at 1000ft, with a maximum spread of 1 and a half inches. How does a man capable of that manage to miss by over 2 feet at 2000 yards?
  • Took a Level in Badass: Nick goes from befuddled FBI rook to a useful ally for Swagger. This was better-explained in the book, where Nick was an ex-sniper who'd quit after a Heroic BSoD. Partly justified, as he would have had some weapons training, there is a brief scene of Swagger training him, and Swagger does most of the heavy lifting anyway.
  • This Means War!: Swagger got upset when they framed him for trying to kill the President and tried to kill him. But he really declared war when they killed his dog!
  • Training Montage: Nick Memphis goes from rookie FBI agent to a sniper thanks to a lesson by Bob.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: The villains eventually leak the location of the real sniper as bait. Swagger only needs to take one look at the isolated ranch to know it's a trap, but decides he needs answers anyways. As predicted, a small army of fully-kitted mercenaries come for him, but Swagger in turn shows he's ready for them, with the copious amounts of homemade teargas, pipe bombs, and napalm he left dropped along the way.
  • Unflinching Walk: At the end when Swagger blows up Senator Meachum's cabin
    • Though careful observation does show Wahlberg flinching slightly at the moment of detonation.
    • Another example is when the mercenaries helicopter crashes, both Bob and Nick keep running without giving the explosion a glance.
  • Who Shot JFK?
    Mr. Rate: That's how a conspiracy works. Them boys on the Grassy Knoll they were dead within three hours, buried in the damned desert, unmarked graves out past Terlingua.
    Nick Memphis: You know this for a fact?
    Mr. Rate: Still got the shovel...
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: As soon as Bob was able to prove that the FBI's evidence against him was fake, he was free to go. This is in spite of his merciless slaughter of henchmen, soldiers, and military snipers. Sure, it was in self defense and in defense of Memphis, but his high-influence political enemies had no reason not to nail him for it. It really helps, however, that everyone he killed did not legally exist. The henchmen torturing Memphis - legally dead years before. The army that ambushed him at the cabin — an American-trained Chilean death squad mercenary unit who weren't even authorized to be in the US, let alone carrying state-of-the-art weapons and flying a helicopter gunship. The snipers on the mountain - more mercenary henchmen. If The Government came down on Swagger, they'd be acknowledging the existence of an entire organization of state-sponsored terrorists, a scandal that would make Watergate look like the President was hit by a pie. They probably were planning to "neutralize" Bob themselves, but he drew first.
    • Of course, Swagger murdering the heads of the conspiracy, including a senator, in cold blood after traveling to their lodge might be a little harder to explain away, but he covered his tracks pretty well on that one.

In addition to many of the above tropes, Point of Impact and its sequels provide examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Many of the villains, but Anto Grogan and his team from I, Sniper stand out, being utterly cold-blooded killers and torturers, yet fairly charming off the clock who aren't afraid to admit to feeling some Villain Respect.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted, while many of Hunter's WWII German characters are happy participants in the holocaust, Sniper's Honor features various soldiers just trying to survive the war while retaining some honor, and a general who turns out to have been part of the July 20th plot.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The related standalone novel "The Day Beofre Midnight" last mentions one of the American leaders as being "hit twice" in a way which makes it unclear if he is killed or injured.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Bad idea.
  • Anti-Hero: Bob Lee Swagger is up there.
  • Author Avatar: A stand-in for Stephen Hunter appears in the opening chapter of The Third Bullet. Unusual for this trope, he is killed off in the same chapter he's introduced.
  • The Baby of the Bunch: Audie is the only member of the Dream Team in Pale Horse Coming not to be at least middle-aged besides Earl himself.
  • Badass Boast: The Big Bad of Night of Thunder gives one of these to Swagger, stating:
    "Swagger, you are way overmatched. You have seen me draw. You know how fast I am, and how I don‘t never miss. I have to leave now. If you try to stop me I will kill you. Who do you think you are?"
    • Bob, however, is not intimidated, and responds in kind:
    "Who do I think I am? You never got it, did you? Y'all thought I was some old coot from out West, no match for Grumley killers and armed robbers and crooked-as-hell detectives. I am Bob Lee Swagger, Gunnery Sergeant, USMC, eighty-seven kills, third-ranking marine sniper in Vietnam. I have shot it out with Salvadorian hunter-killer units and Marisol Cubano hitmen and a Russian sniper sent halfway around the world. I even won a sword fight or two in my time. They all had one thing in common. They thought they were hunting me, and I was hunting them. Faced many, all are sucking grass from the bitter, root end. Here‘re your choices: You can come easy or you can come dead."
    • In case you're wondering how the confrontation turns out...Bob shoots her three times before she even got the safety off.
  • Badass Family: Bob Lee, his father Earl, and his son, Ray Cruz are all shown to be exceptional marksmen and gunfighters. Bob's half-brother Lamar Pye counts as well, though as a darker version.
    • The newest Swagger novel, G-Man, reveals that Bob's grandfather Charles was also this as well, proving to possibly be the most adept pistoleer in the Swagger line, effectively inventing the modern technique of the pistol in 1934. While he eventually grew into an alcoholic JerkAss, his combat skills cannot be denied.
  • Badass Israeli: The Big Bad of The Third Bullet refers to hiring a few for surveillance purposes, and Mossad has prominent roles in Sniper's Honor and Game of Snipers.
  • Cain and Abel: Cleon and Davis in Pale Horse Coming turn out to be this.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Just about any time a book has a repeatedly mentioned politician or rich guy throughout the first several acts in a seemingly minor manor, he turns out to be the Big Bad.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Nick Memphis's second wife is pregnant during the events of Time to Hunt but no child is mentioned during any of the couple's subsequent appearances (although the In-Universe meaning of this could range anywhere form a miscarriage to simply the kid being off at school).
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: In Stephen Hunter's early novels, the CIA is usually portrayed as being shady and amoral. The FBI on the other hand is portrayed much more positively.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The book as a whole is no stranger to language, but Payne thinks in these terms. His death scene is quite something.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Evgeny Pashin, a Russian presidential candidate in "Time to Hunt" causes in on being the brother of Soviet hero Arkady Pashin, a character in the standalone novel "The Day Before Midnight" and the Earl Swagger book Havana. The fact that Pashin is still seen as a Soviet hero after going rogue and nearly starting WWIII is more than a little disturbing.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Justin Monk from The Third Bullet is really just pretending to be one while serving as a spy for Meechum.
  • Continuity Nod: In I, Sniper, when investigating a legendary Marine Corps sniper accused of assassinating several celebrities, Swagger is about to ask if the firing pin on the rifle was checked, but the director of the FBI's forensics lab beats him to the punch, telling him that yes, he was the same lab tech from Point of Impact who checked Swagger's rifle, and yes, this time he did check that the firing pin worked.
  • Cold Sniper: Solaratov.
  • Crazy-Prepared: In G-Man when Bob and Nick Capture the Grumley Brothers, it turns out the brothers have prepared for such a contingency by researching what happened between Charles Swagger and Baby Face Nelson -which as been Bob Lee's goal throughout the story-, and stashing the proof nearby, using this to convince the two to let them go. Bob Lee himself is also pretty good at this, such as how he dismantles all of his firing pins before leaving his house so no one can use his guns.
  • Critical Research Failure: In-universe example in I, Sniper; a New York Post reporter runs an article alleging Assistant Director Nick Memphis took bribes from FN Herstal to select their rifle for the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, along with a photo of Nick with execs, firing an FN PSR in 2006. Except it turns out that the rifle in question is a Remington VTR 2007, which was only introduced in 2008, meaning that the picture is false, and so is the rest of the article. The fallout kills the reporter's career... and it could have been avoided had he done his research. Notably, he neglected to verify the rifle type from an FN catalog an intern found.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: In Sniper's Honor had her father executed by Stalin for protesting about a popular but inefficient agricultural policy, her mother died of grief, and her husband and two brother all died earlier in the war.
  • The Dragon: Jack Payne is the primary enforcer for the villains in the first book.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mick Bogomil in Dead Zero does this after killing a lot of innocents for an objective he's failed to complete (and is possibly questioning the purpose of) and seeing his partners killed after having wanted to keep them alive.
  • Elective Mute: Rawley Grumley in G-Man is The Quiet One until the very end of the novel, but comes across as a very talkative Southern-Fried Genius once he actually starts speaking. To be fair, his brother did mention this in their introductory scene, albeit not very convincingly.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In Time To Hunt Solaratov is discovered by two phone company employees while breaking into their office to steal information. He is forced to kill both of them due to them witnessing what he was doing. Despite the fact that Solaratov is a cold-blooded professional assassin who has killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people over the decades he feels a twinge of guilt over having to murder two completely innocent people.
    • One of the villains in Black Light finds out the identity of Bob's wife, but refuses to target her because going after an enemy's family is too evil even for him.
  • Everything's Better With Bob: Dr. Dobbler would like you to know that Bob Lee Swagger's first name is Bob. Not Robert, Bob. In fact, the only sources to get this wrong are a few voices in the media circus, but that's the least of what they do.
  • Evil Cripple: Lon Scott, the real sniper. His immobility is a major plot point.
    • Although in The Third Bullet Lon Scott is given a more sympathetic portrayal. He is shown to be a tragic figure whose disability and guilt over killing John F. Kennedy gradully turned him into the remorseless killer in Point of Impact.
  • Evil Uncle: An incidental version in ''The Day Before Midnight", when, as part of his plan, Arkady Pashin is willing to set off a nuclear bomb in the cellar of an embassy where nis nephew works at to decapitate the American leadership. Despite some initial {{ Fauxshadowing}} The nephew is completely unaware of this).
  • Foregone Conclusion: Several characters survival is ensured in novels with flashbacks and such.
    • The ever treacherous state trooper turned CIA asset Frenchy Short (an antagonist in two of the Earl Swagger novels and novels and one Bob Lee Swagger one) is safe from being killed by the Swagger's.... because he's tortured to death by a blowtorch wielding KGB agent in connection with the events of the standalone novel ''The Second Saladin''.
    • During the Vietnam scenes from "A Time to Hunt" it's already been established that Bob Lee will survive the war and Donny Fenn won't.
    • In the World War II flashbacks of "The 47th Samurai" both previous books and content from the beginning of the book make it clear that Earl Swagger will survive the Battle of Iwo Jima and the Japanese commander Hideki Yano won't.
  • Freudian Excuse: Lon Scott was accidentally shot in the spine by his father at a relatively young age, paralyzing him, days after which his father committed suicide. Messed him up something fierce.
  • Friendly Sniper: Played straight and averted with Bob Lee. He's old-fashioned and polite to those he has to deal with, but he's also reclusive and withdrawn from the world at large, and once he gets on scope he's a Cold Sniper.
    • Chuck McKenzie is this to a T, off and on the scope.
    • ex-spetsnaz sniper Stronski, who cooperates with a couple of Bob Lee's investigations, is also fairly jovial.
    • Milli Petrova from Sniper's Honor acts reserved and unquestioning, but this is actually a survival tactic to avoid punishment from her Soviet superiors (as well as grief over her dead family) and nonverbally shows hesitation about the purpose of her mission early on (before learning what kind of a monster she's being sent after), gave several burning German tankers Mercy Kill's after being specifically ordered not to waste the bullets, and is protective of the partisans helping her.
    • Ron Fields from I, Sniper is a very amiable man dedicated to helping out Nick and Bob Lee, whose a shrewd investigator and has served as a sniper for several hostage situations without once having to shoot anyone.
    • Subverted with Anto Grogan and his fellow sniper trainers from I, Sniper (all of them ex-SAS). They are incredibly cheerful people but are also hired killers who take some pleasure in their work.
  • Gun Porn: Lots of it, and thanks to a liberal helping of Shown Their Work, it's all extremely detailed and accurate.
  • The Gunslinger: Charles Swagger, pretty much all of the core cast in Pale Horse Coming, and Thelma Fielding stand out.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Dr. Dobbler and arguably Braxton and Rawley Grumley.
  • Humble Hero: Bob Lee becomes uncomfortable whenever somebody calls him a hero, and insists that he isn't.
  • Husky Russkie: Stronski is a pretty brawny fellow.
  • I Owe You My Life: in G-Man, Homer Van Meter provides covering fire for his fellow bank robbers, saving them from being killed or captured, and while Les/Baby Face initially refuses feeling any such sentiment, he later admits to feeling it after Homer is killed by the police.
  • It's Raining Men: Von Drehle and his paratroopers in Sniper's Honor.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: Bob and Nick's first meeting has Nick trying to arrest Bob for a crime he didn't commit. Bob wins.
  • Majorly Awesome: Karl Von Drehle is an elite Father to His Men who has survived some of the worst fighting of theSecond World War, is introduced taking a bridge from the Russians with his men, and isn't afraid to defy or even fight, the SS throughout the novel.
  • Manly Gay: Gun-toting sheriff Charles Swagger, Bob Lee's grandfather is revealed to have been a closet gay (or perhaps bisexual) man who started following his impulses later in life.
  • The Mole: In Time to Hunt the character of Bonson is a spy working for the Russian ultranationalist party PAMYAT. Eventually he manages to rise to the office of CIA director.
  • My Greatest Failure: Nick accidentally shooting Myra, even though it wasn't entirely his fault, has never quite left him. It hasn't done him any good.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The novel I, Sniper features a few examples. The character Carl Hitchcock is based on real-life Marine sniper and Vietnam vet Carlos Hathcock. The character Joan Flanders is based on Jane Fonda, and billionaire television mogul T.T. Constable is based on Ted Turner. Chuck McKenzie is based off Chuck Mawhinney, Marine Corps sniper with the highest confirmed killcount in Vietnam.
    • The character of Richard Puller in The Day Before Midnight and Time to Hunt is based on Richard J. Meadows, a real-life U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who was a key figure in founding Delta Force.
    • In Pale Horse Coming, Earl Swagger recruits a large group of firearms experts to help him in Storming the Castle. These include explicit expies of Elmer Keith, Jack O'Connor, Ed McGivern, Charles Askins, Bill Jordan, and Audie Murphy. In short, an absolute Dream Team of the mid-40s firearms world.
  • Off with His Head!: The fate of the Big Bad of The 47th Samurai.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Dirty White Boys features two state troopers who come into conflict with the eponymous Villain Protagonists. The seasoned older cop (who has two teenaged kids) is protective of his rookie partner, even though he's having an affair with his partner's wife.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Though not present in the "main" story, the high-stakes hearing at the end pits Bob's elderly lawyer friend Sam Vincent against the ambitious young Amoral Attorney Phil Kelso.
  • One-Hit KO: Bob's father Earl delivers this to Bugsy Siegel of all people.
  • One-Man Army: During The Vietnam War Bob Lee and his spotter, Donny Fenn, held off an entire North Vietnamese battalion that was closing in on a lightly-defended Special Forces encampment. For two days Bob and Donny engaged the North Vietnamese until air support could arrive. During this engagement Bob Lee personally killed over 80 enemy troops, only stopping when his ammo ran out.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: One of the henchmen from The Third Bullet is mentioned as having been shot in the head by a terrorist in the Middle East, laughed it off and shot the man, something which both awes and disturbs his employer as he recounts the story.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Plenty of snipers (both enemies and allies) experience this at Bob Lee's hands.
    • In G-Man Jimmy Murray has this work to his benefit. He's a decent armed robber and planner who is Respected by the Respected but he's less active and flashy than the likes of Baby-Face, Dillinger and the others, causing him to be ignored by the FBI when they launch their campaign against the so-called Public Enemies (something Baby-Face briefly lampshades).
  • Posthumous Character: The closest thing to a major female character for the first two hundred pages, Myra, died just before the events of the story.
  • Rank Up: After Point of Impact, Nick Memphis' stalled career begins to resume its course, and by I, Sniper, he's a Special Agent In Charge on the verge of becoming an Assistant Director.
  • Retirony: In Time to Hunt Donny is killed on his very last day before being rotated back home from Vietnam.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Bob Lee and his allies go on their share of them, and in G-Man, the final act of the novel is driven by Baby Face Nelson's determination to avenge the deaths of his fellow gang members.
  • Samus Is a Girl: The Big Bad of Night of Thunder
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: A morally gray version comes from when Red Bama kills the Big Bad of Black Light A United States Senator in cold blood and dryly notes that this well cost him a fortune to cover up, but he does indeed cover it up and walk free in court.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Two of Earl's men in Hot Springs quit the team after their bulletproof vests get taken away, given the nature of the people their going up against. This turns out to have been a very wise precaution given what happens next.
  • Semper Fi: Although certain individual marines may be portrayed negatively, the United States Marine Corps on a whole is portrayed in a very positive light in Stephen Hunter's novels.
  • She's Got Legs: One of the first things Bob Lee notes about Badass Bureaucrat Susan Okada.
  • Shown Their Work: Or, as one reviewer put it, "Stephen Hunter has done for the sniper rifle what Tom Clancy did for the nuclear submarine."
  • The Shrink: Dr. Dobbler in the first book, who is introduced analyzing which of the various sniper candidates would be best suited for the job.
  • Sinister Minister: The Grumley reverend in Night of Thunder.
  • Smug Snake: Howard D. Utey - "Howdy Duty" to anyone he's crossed - but call him that and you'd better be prepared for a lot of Bothering by the Book.
    "He was careful to have men under him who were not quite as bright as he, and he particularly understood the dangers of talent, which was that while it was capable of producing spectacular results, it was just as apt to go off by itself to nurse obscure grudges or lick psychic wounds after gross expenditures of energy. Talent wasn't consistent or loyal or pliant enough to be trusted; Howard deeply hated talent, and made certain that none of the men who worked for him ever had any talent. He'd driven seven talented men out of the Bureau and only one had stood against him, the idiot Nick Memphis, once so bright and brimming with enthusiasm, carefully betrayed at each step of the way, and yet stubborn in his refusal to leave the Bureau."
    • For complete reference, prior to the events of the book, Utey was Memphis's superior during a hostage situation where Memphis was attempting to snipe a gunman holding a woman hostage. He yells in Memphis's earbuds just as he takes the shot, making him hit the woman! That's not conjecture either - Swagger simulates the shot, and is only able to make it by using his training to tune out the screeching over his radio.
    • It's implied that he's a willing member of RamDyne's conspiracy - especially his Villainous BSoD upon seeing Swagger walk.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Charlie in Pale Horse Coming is one of the good guys but is always boasting about how many men he's killed and freely admits that he's only coming along because it sounds like a good opportunity to kill people he won't have to feel guilty about.
  • Suicide, Not Murder: A variant in The 47th Samurai were, Hideki Yano is assumed to have been killed by American soldiers on the battlefield, but ultimately turns out to have instead Committed Seppeku after realizing that the American -Earl Swagger- he'd just overpowered and had at his mercy had been trying to beat his wounds.
  • Take That!: I, Sniper is full of take thats to tacticool gun culture fetishish, irresponsible journalism, and the New York Times, the Washington Post's longtime rival.
  • Token Good Teammate: Two of the terrorist in "Soft Target" deliberately keep from shooting anyone with their bullets, aren't true believers and contemplate slipping away. It doesn't save them, and they end up being used to exemplify What Measure Is a Mook?.
  • Tunnel King: The Day Before Midnight involves the need to find Vietnam veteran tunnel rats (as suggested by a local mining expert who says that it's too complicated of a job for him) to dig through a coal mine under a missile silo. The only two who can be found on short notice are a North Vietnamese veteran (an Action Girl who fought as a teenaged) who eventually defected and a an African-American man who became a pimp and drug dealer -partially due tomdisillusionment from the racist treatment he got after his tour- and is recruited out of in prison. Both are Shell-Shocked Veteran's reluctant to go back into the tunnels but understanding of the necessity.
  • Villains Out Shopping: In Game of Snipers, while both the terrorist sniper and his local contact are devoted to their cause and generally disdainful of western civilization, the terrorist sniper is noted as developing a fondness for cheeseburger meals, while his contact enjoys watching baseball games.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Much of the plot of Game Of Snipers is centered upon the villain recreating a 2,707 yard shot from British Sniper Craig Harrison, based on it being the longest confirmed sniper kill. However, by the time of the book's release, this has already been surpassed by an unnamed Canadian JTF-2 sniper, with a 3800 yard shot. Admittedly, given the lack of information available on the latter, it would have been much harder to frame a plot around.
  • Unreliable Narrator: At the end of The Third Bullet, the Big Bad is revealed to have lied at least a little in his diary, having made it sound as if he mourned the unlucky deaths of his accomplices, but ultimately admitting that he'd actually subtly arranged for their deaths out of paranoia.
  • Wardens Are Evil: The one in Pale Horse Coming sure is, infecting prisoners with syphilis as a biological weapons test and being an all-around murderous racist.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The policeman who shot Swagger is killed by a "random mugger" not too long after fulfilling his part in the Government Conspiracy.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: