Synopsis: In this action thriller, Sean Penn stars as former special-ops agent James Terrier, who is suddenly targeted by some of the world’s best hit men. Terrier must dig into his top-secret past to figure out who wants him dead, and why.
Release Date: March 20, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Sean Penn is not an action star. As a two-time Oscar winner, Penn has established himself as a method actor capable of immersing himself into any role, but never has that performance required an overwhelming sense of machismo…until now with The Gunman
The Gunman is very much up Sean Penn’s alley, with its focus on political and governmental corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But where a straight drama might treat the idea of corrupt mining operations as the impetus for a grand political message, The Gunman uses it for the backdrop of an action thriller. However, because the subject material is so poignant, and The Gunman‘s connection to it is so slight, it feels like a very piecemeal film.
At its core, the story follows Jim Terrier, an ex-Special Forces soldier masquerading as an NGO bodyguard in the Congo. What Terrier is really doing in the region is protecting the interests of some seedy European corporations that want to ensure the price of diamonds stay low. During his time spent in the DRC, Terrier develops a relationship and for all intents and purposes constructs a happy life with his undercover buddies. But when a mission forces him into hiding, Terrier loses all that. Eventually, those past demons do come to haunt Terrier and with his life threatened he must reconnect with old colleagues (and an old flame played by Jasmine Trinca) to find out what really went on in the Congo.
Marketing and trailers may sell The Gunman as an ensemble picture with Javier Bardem and Idris Elba, but make no mistake: Sean Penn takes center stage here. Like the Taken films, which coincidentally were also directed by Pierre Morel, The Gunman tries to put its older lead actor in as many exciting scenarios as it can, in the hopes of wowing the audience. However, the only thing that genuinely wows about The Gunman is Penn’s biceps, which are uncharacteristically veiny and muscular. To be fair, it speaks to Penn’s acting approach that he would tone his body to this level, but in some places the lack of clothing feels gratuitous. It’s like the muscle man flexing for no other reason than to win the ladies.
Strangely enough, though, it feels as if Penn put more work into his physique and his character than the screenwriters did in the script. Somewhere within The Gunman‘s story, which is an adaptation of the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette, is a decent and coherent thread of intrigue. What The Gunman delivers, however, is misguided at best and confusing at worst. The film spends so much time pursuing red herrings and veering off into unnecessary tangents that it’s hard to remember what the actual A-plot is. Javier Bardem, for example, is only in the film to mislead the audience and Sean Penn’s character, and to play the creepy guy who stole Terrier’s love. He, like many of the plot points and characters, doesn’t fit and adds to the bloat of The Gunman, which at almost two hours will start to wear even the most invested moviegoer down.
Trimmed down to a lean 100 minutes or so, The Gunman could have scrapped by as a mildly enjoyable thriller with a strong leading performance. But with all that excess fat around, the film becomes a tedious and boring exercise in how not to deliver a focused narrative. It may be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or perhaps the crew spent too much time pursuing Sean Penn; either way, The Gunman is a dull, haphazard, action flick and is as disposable as a Jim Terrier t-shirt.
While The Gunman is unsure of whether it wants to be a poignant drama or a popcorn-flavored action flick, when the film does bring the bombast it doesn’t hold back. Technically speaking, the film is well choreographed and well composed, with shootouts that deliver plenty of punch. They are bloody, loud, and tense, which is all you can ask of a film like this. Sure, the action sequences are not terribly inventive, one scene in particular feels motivated by a location and not by the story, but it gets the job done. The audience will be cringing and/or hooting during every headshot and throat chop, much in the same way they have during films like Taken.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Pierre Morel
- Screenwriter(s): Don MacPhersonPete Travis
- Cast: Sean Penn (Terrier)Jasmine Trinca (Annie)Javier Bardem (Felix) Ray Winstone (Stanley)Mark Rylance (Cox)Idris Elba (DuPont)
- Editor(s): Frederic Thoraval
- Cinematographer: Flavio Martinez Labiano
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA