“Unmarked graves out past Terlingua.”


Have I told you lately how much I love writers?

I’d like to share a few lines of dialog with you, spoken by a musician, in the 2007 movie Shooter. If you’re not familiar with this guy, odds are you’ve heard of his musical group called The Band. Levon Helm was the group’s drummer and one of three lead vocalists.

Not only was he known for his musicianship and singing, he was also a fine actor and lots of fun to watch. Among other films, he appeared as Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter and as Gen. Chuck Yeager’s colleague, Capt. Jack Ridley in The Right Stuff. In Shooter, he plays a legendary, quirky gunsmith.

Mark Wahlberg and Michael Peña head up the cast. Wahlberg plays an ex-Marine sniper who gave up the military life and lives in the woods with too many guns, as he cracked at one point. Peña plays an FBI agent who was hunting Wahlberg because the sniper was accused of an attempted presidential assassination, but now they’re working together to uncover a conspiracy.

Well into the movie, Walhberg and Peña roll up to this house way out in the middle of nowhere. “Welcome to Tennessee,” Wahlberg cracks. “The patron state of shootin’ stuff.” They go in to meet that legendary gunsmith, played by Levon.

Character names: Wahlberg is Bob Lee Swagger. Peña is Nick Memphis. Helm is Mr. Rate.

And here follows the dialog:

Rate: You boys come a long way. What you looking for?

Swagger: Wisdom.

Rate: You come to the wrong place.

Swagger: Maybe. …Suppose I was looking for a man to make a 2,200-yard cold-bore shot. Who’s alive that could do that?

Rate: Seems I heard about a shot like that being made not too long ago. Said the guy’s name was Bob Lee Swagger. Never met the man, so I wouldn’t know him.

Swagger: Yeah, they said that, all right.

Rate: They also said that artificial sweeteners were safe, and WMDs were in Iraq, and Anna Nicole married for love!

Rate: Would’ve been a bad job to take, though.

Swagger: How come?

Rate: Whoever took that shot’s probably dead now. That’s how a conspiracy works. Them boys on the grassy knoll, they were dead within three hours. Buried in the damn desert. Unmarked graves out past Terlingua.

Memphis: And you know this for a fact?

Rate: Still got the shovel!



Swagger: Sake of argument, somebody other than him?

Rate: There was a guy in Russia. They locked his ass up. Another one in France. I know he’s dead. There was one guy, but he don’t shoot no more. A brutal son of a bitch. Most boys shoot to kill. He’d shoot to wound, wait ’til his friends come to help, kill them too. Turned one target into four. Men, women, children. Killed them by the hunnerds.

Rate: The other side wanted him. Bad. Finally narrowed his hide down to an abandoned six-story building. They quit the subtle tactics. They called in an artillery strike. Leveled a square block. Brought the building down on his ass. Some say he crawled out of there. Some say he died. Never heard from him no more.

Swagger: Fuck me. I met the son of a bitch.

Rate: Yeah. The world ain’t what it seems, is it, Gunnie?

Swagger: No, sir.

Rate: You keep that in mind. The moment you think you got it figured, you’re wrong!


The credited screenwriters are Stephen Hunter and Jonathan Lemkin. Congratulations, gentlemen. In my opinion, that is some of the wicked-best dialog ever! And that hilarious bit about the shovel has worked its way into the American idiom. The line about artificial sweeteners, Iraq and Anna Nicole Smith (for those who don’t know, she was a very buxom young model who married a very wealthy and very old man…evidently for love…or not) had me laughing.

Levon Helm, 1940 to 2012. Rest in peace.

Here’s the scene. Check it out for yourself: Shooter – Still got the shovel.

About Michael McKown

Avatar photoJournalist, specialty magazine editor/publisher for 22 years, entrepreneur, co-founder of America's largest working dog organization, producer/director, and co-founder of Ghostwriters Central in 2002.