A look at the sniper in movies

The nature of what a sniper does makes it a perfect fit for film tension

Gary Cooper in ‘Sergeant York’

We’ve been watching snipers in movies going back to 1941 when actor Gary Cooper portrayed Medal of Honor recipient Alvin York in the film Sergeant York.  Alvin York was actually a Corporal when he earned his Medal of Honor in France’s Forest of Argonne in 1918.  He was promoted to Sergeant after he brought in 132 German prisoners of war.

With the release of The Wall from director Doug Limon, TailSlate decided to look at a few of the films where snipers are featured or are the primary focus.   We didn’t include one of the best films about snipers in recent years, American Sniper because it was so recent.  There were far too many to include them all and if we omitted your favorite, we apologize in advance.

Jude Law in ‘Enemy at the Gates’

2001 saw the release of Enemy at the Gates from writer/director Jean-Jacques Annaud.  It starred Jude Law as Hero of the Soviet Union Vasily Zaitsev.  Taking place during the Battle of Stalingrad, like many sniper movies it featured a “sniper duel.”  Ed Harris played “Major Erwin König” whose name shows up in Zaitsev’s memoir but nowhere in the official German war records.  Their duel may not have been real but that makes the drama achieved on-screen no less compelling.  The film also starred Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz and Bob Hoskins.

Barry Pepper in ‘Saving Private Ryan’

While Stephen Spielberg’s brilliant Saving Private Ryan wasn’t the story of an exceptional sniper, it did feature one.  “Private Daniel Jackson” was a left-handed sniper portrayed by Barry Pepper.  He was unusual in that just as left-handers make up a small percentage of the population, there are not a lot of left-handed snipers.  Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Vin Diesel and Matt Damon are just some of the outstanding cast in this movie; bringing Spielberg his second Best Director Oscar.

Bill Paxton in ‘Navy Seals”

In 1990 Michael Biehn and Charlie Sheen starred as the commander and second in command of a team of SEALs in Navy Seals.  Their team included a sniper named “Floyd Dane” (Bill Paxton) whose radio call-sign was “God.”  That’s because during every action they were involved in, he would go to high ground to provide over-watch for his teammates.  While it had lots of action, the film bombed with critics and at the box office.  Several Special Forces types have told TailSlate that if a real SEAL acted like Charlie Sheen’s character did, he’d have been booted out of the SEALs.

Billy Zane and Tom Berenger in ‘Sniper’

Three years later, Tom Berenger and Billy Zane starred in Sniper, the story of a very experienced and a sniper who has never made a kill, respectively.  Berenger is a Marine Corps Scout/Sniper while Zane plays an Olympic gold-medal winning shooter who is now a civilian employee of a government agency.  It is an okay movie but some of the shooter’s point of view sequences are worthy of a viewing.

One of the finest films about the Vietnam War is Stanley Kubrick’s .  There is a scene in the basic training half of the film where “Gunnery Sergeant Hartman” (R. Lee Ermey) is talking about how Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman (the so-called Texas Tower Shooter) had acquired their marksmanship skills in the Marine Corps.  Then in the second half of the film, set in Vietnam itself, a patrol led by “Cowboy” (Arliss Howard) comes under fire from a Viet Cong sniper.  When the surviving members of the patrol locate and wound the sniper, they are surprised to find out who the sniper is.

Mark Wahlberg in ‘Sniper’

2007’s Shooter is the story of “Bob Lee Swagger” (Mark Wahlberg) a Marine Corps Force Recon sniper who is sent on a mission where his spotter is killed.  Three years later he is talked into attempting to prevent the assassination of the U.S. President by “Colonel Johnson” (Danny Glover).  It is a set-up to frame Swagger for the murder of the man standing next to the president.  Based on a novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter, the story is updated from the novel’s Vietnam-era setting.

Colin Farrell in ‘Phone Booth’

Sniper films aren’t limited to military operations or settings.  2002 brought us Phone Booth starring Colin Farrell as “Stu Shepard” who finds himself trapped in a phone booth on a New York City street.  Facing a moral dilemma and certain death if he tries to escape, Stu must confront his choices.  An excellent psychological thriller.

There are other sniper films, but these are among our favorites.

Brian Milinsky

Brian Milinsky has served in the military, been an FM D.J. and an award-winning radio news reporter/anchor/writer/editor. He is presently a screenwriter and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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