If you’re willing to overlook a completely unbelievable premise, then this tense drama about guns and the men who love them makes for a somewhat exciting viewing experience. The acting is solid, the cinematography and production values are excellent, and the story features a number of peculiar twists, as well as explosive action scenes. However, if you’re the sort of viewer who prefers movies that stem from logical concepts and then proceed along the lines of credible human psychology, then Shoot is not for you. The moment this film reaches what screenwriters refer to as the “inciting incident,” all semblance of reality goes out the window.
The movie begins with several buddies heading into the wilderness for a hunting trip. Leading the pack is Rex (Cliff Robertson), a tightly wound businessman who formerly served as an officer in the U.S. military. He’s first seen strapping on a pistol like it’s part of his everyday wardrobe, and then cleaning a rifle with stroking movements so gentle and passionate that the visual analogy to masturbation is impossible to miss. Once Rex and his pals reach a deep forest ravine, they encounter another group of hunters—and then, for no discernible reason, one of the hunters from the other group opens fire. Rex and his people retaliate, and Rex kills one of the “enemy soldiers.” The mysterious hunters then withdraw, leaving Rex and his friends alone with their confusion about what the hell just happened. Later scenes compound the bewildering nature of the firefight. Rex and his guys refuse to report the incident. Rex studies newspaper obituaries until he discovers the identity of the man he shot, and then he visits that man’s widow, who spews lots of xenophobic dialogue. Rex has an affair with a friend’s wife, since the filmmakers apparently need us to know that their protagonist is virile in bed as well as on the battlefield. Rex quarrels with his fellow hunters, especially Lou (Ernest Borgnine), about a proper response to the incident. Finally, Rex recruits a private army, complete with automatic weapons and heavy equipment, for a siege on the forest, where he’s sure the “enemy soldiers” await a rematch.
None of this makes much sense, but Shoot is acted with considerable skill and it’s beautifully photographed by DP Zale Magder, from the artfully composed interior scenes to the pristine visions of snow-covered forests. There’s also an interesting theme buried in the movie, something about the consequences of escalation, although the potency of theme is diminished because of its symbiotic connection to a poorly supported narrative. Still, there’s something about this particular genre—movies derived from Deliverance (1972)—that speaks to issues of male identity and militarism in an endlessly interesting way.