A taut, psychological thriller, "Sniper" is a TriStar Pictures presentation starring Tom Berenger and Billy Zane. Directed by Luis Llosa, "Sniper" is written by Michael Frost Beckner & Crash Leyland. The producer is Robert L. Rosen, the executive producers are Mark Johnson, Walon Green and Patrick Wachsberger, and the co-producers are James Gorman and Charles J.D. Schlissel. Also starring is J.T. Walsh.
"Sniper" is the antithesis of most action and war films as it explores what shooting a human being means to the person who is pulling the trigger. Executive producer Mark Johnson, who has produced such hits as "Rain Man," "Good Morning, Vietnam," "Bugsy" and the recent "Toys," admits that the film was an unlikely production choice for him, but, "when I read 'Sniper,' I thought the writing was too good to ignore. It has this action veneer, but below there is also a very dark side to the story. It's far from being a traditional buddy film."
Johnson also saw the film as the ideal vehicle with which to introduce the talents of Peruvian director Luis Llosa to a wider audience in the United States. The two had met while working on the feature "Sorcerer" (Llosa was assistant to producer and director William Friedkin), and they have been friends ever since.
"I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to work with Luis again," Johnson says, "and to have helped bring his vision of 'Sniper' to life."
Tom Berenger's interest in the project was a deciding factor in bringing the story to the screen. Berenger, no stranger to military roles after his Oscar-nominated performance as Sergeant Barnes in "Platoon" and his portrayal of the recruiting officer in "Born on the Fourth of July," was intrigued by the "Greek tragedy" elements of the story, which looks into the heart and mind of a sniper who "kills but doesn't like killing."
"Tom's character has a great complexity," says director Luis Llosa. "On the one hand Beckett's the perfect soldier, almost like a samurai. But inside all that perfect practicality is a very tortured mind. You feel that this is not a man truly at peace with himself. "
Berenger says: "I think Beckett is probably a bit of a maverick within the Marine Corps. Snipers aren't conventional infantry. They fight and live differently. Great mental and physical stamina is required, and they must tolerate incredible discomfort and great loneliness.
"Beckett is not a mechanical assassin," says producer Robert L. Rosen. "He's seen the torture and the murder of people and what drugs will do. He needs to know that his target has committed crimes against humanity."
Billy Zane, praised for his performances in "Dead Calm" and the telefilm"Two of a Kind: The Case of the Hillside Stranglers," was cast as Beckett's partner, Richard Miller, an inexperienced and arrogant Olympic marksman who undergoes a dramatic metamorphosis when he is forced to face his own terror.
Zane says: "This film answers the morally ambiguous predecessors -- all the gung-ho films that perpetuated the myth that life was worth nothing. 'Sniper' is about the nature of killing and the price that's paid.
Having landed his assignment by virtue of being an Olympic silver medalist in marksmanship, Miller is essentially an urban character ill-prepared for the personal journey he faces, a journey that Llosa describes as being partly one of "animalization." The young sniper's arrogant presumption that the mission will be a simple, routine exercise whose greatest lasting impact will be on his Stateside career is dashed when he is not only called upon to kill for the first time, but finds himself locked in mortal battle with his own partner.
"Miller's tragic flaw," says Zane, "is that he felt he didn't get his 15 minutes of fame after winning the Olympic medal. He takes this mission for personal gain and has to extend his target practice into the world of flesh. He believes that taking that shot must be a piece of cake, but once he's there he finds it's not."
"Their relationship is very tense," says Berenger. "Beckett is saddled with someone who is not experienced and may be doing this mission for the wrong reasons,, so in a perverse way it's sort of a reluctant master-student relationship.
"Miller starts to inexorably change into what he rejected so strongly in Beckett," Llosa says of Miller's metamorphosis. "Eventually he has to put his scope on another human being. It's a very traumatic psychological experience, and through that he understands Beckett, and so do we.
To prepare for his role, Berenger visited snipers at a Marine base in South Carolina near his home. He also spent considerable time with retired Marine Captain Dale Dye, his friend and the technical adviser on the film, whom he had met on "Platoon." A former sniper himself, Dye has three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in battle and knows about the life which the film depicts.
"A sniper is a Iong-range shooter whose job is to eliminate certain key targets in the enemy infrastructure," explains Dye. "He is as much a psychological weapon as he is a weapon of war, and quite an effective one. too."
Dye put Berenger, and to a lesser extent Zane, through vigorous training in the jungles of Queensland, Australia, which double for Panama on the screen. The training included a day-Iong crawl, some of it through a river, in a jungle that was not without its danger. Crocodiles infested the rivers, deadly snakes were often found on the set, and there were even poisonous plants.
"We got ant bit, spider bit and every other kind of bit," says Dye. "We were filthy, tired, underfed, underloved, but we were ready to portray snipers. Being a sniper requires enormous control of your body, breathing and your focus, all of the things actors are trained to do, so Tom and Billy took their acting mechanics and applied them to shooting. It was wonderful: they became really good marksmen."
Completing the cast is a talented group of Australian actors. Cast as Corporal Papich, Beckett's initial partner, is Aden Young, ("Black Robe"), while Ken Radley ("The Big, Steal") stars as the evil El Cirujano ("the surgeon"), an ex-CIA agent turned brutal enforcer for a Colombian drug lord.
"Sniper's" distinguished behind-the-camera talent includes director of photography Bill Butler, A.S.C., who received an Oscar nomination for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Australian production designer Herbert Pinter ("Black Robe," "Mr. Johnson"), editor Scott Smith ("Darkman," "Mobsters") and costumer Ray Summers ("Black Sunday").