The Gunman, 2015.
Directed by Pierre Morel.
Starring Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Jasmine Trinca, Mark Rylance and Peter Franzen.
Eight years after a hit on the Congo mining minister, the assassin finds that he is now the target in a game of cat and mouse.
Spurred on by the inexplicable success of Taken (seriously? Watch it again – it isn’t THAT good), its sequels and the subsequent fad of middle-aged actors starring in revenge thrillers, Sean Penn (Carlito’s Way/Casualties of War) has joined the likes of Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner and Denzel Washington by starring in The Gunman, directed – funnily enough – by Taken director Pierre Morel.
Penn plays Jim Terrier, a sniper who has been selected to be the shooter in the assassination of the mining minister in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After the hit Jim has to leave the continent as the country falls into chaos and the team that he was a part of disbands, but eight years later Jim returns to the Congo as an aid worker, helping to dig wells and rebuild the country (and ease his conscience). But whilst working there an attempt is made on his life, which he manages to survive using the “special skills” that are now part of the action thriller zeitgeist, and so begins his adventure to find out who set up the assassination attempt and what is has to with what he did eight years previous. First stop? Try to contact his old team…
So there’s nothing new in the plot of The Gunman, which means that the film has to rely on performances, script and direction – after all, it’s not the material but what you do with it, right? – and while the film has nearly all of those things up to a certain level the whole isn’t as good as the sum of its parts. The Gunman relies most heavily on Sean Penn to carry it along and fortunately he does an impressive job as the world-weary Jim Terrier, a character far more interesting than any of Liam Neeson’s Taken-inspired “former cop/agent with skills”. Strangely enough, Penn looks younger after the “Eight Years Later” caption comes up but nevertheless, he looks the part of a haunted ex-assassin and brings his trademark intensity that the likes of Neeson and Costner just can’t match.
But the secondary characters are served less fondly by Morel, despite some reliably decent performances. Javier Bardem (Skyfall) plays a character with as much intrigue lying in his past as Terrier but he isn’t given that much to do apart from act drunk. Likewise Idris Elba (Luther) shows up in a potentially heroic role in the latter part of the film but isn’t given very much to do except point out what is happening with cryptic allegory while Ray Winstone (Scum) has a little bit more involvement and is, thankfully, keeping it British and not putting on an accent. The strangest performance, though, comes from Mark Rylance as Jim’s former colleague Cox, who seems to be auditioning for a pantomime villain and speaking in a very strange way, which lends the film a very odd tone, especially in the final act where he doesn’t seem to realise he is in a film and not on the stage.
Director Pierre Morel stretches the film out to silly lengths – it comes in just shy of two hours – when it really would have worked a lot better by cutting down on the dull dialogue and sticking to a 90-minute running time, because by the time you get to the predictable finale (the final act is set in Spain and the script requires a meeting in a public place so guess where everyone ends up?) the film has run out of steam and you can pretty much make up the rest in your head; guaranteed that whatever you come up with is what happens. The Gunman is a more watchable movie than Taken 2, A Good Day to Die Hard and Sabotage so if you’re one of those movie fans who has to see everything in a certain genre (aging-action-heroes-in-mainstream-exploitation-movies, if you want to give it a title) then it isn’t the worst of the bunch but it is very generic and ultimately does not do justice to the talent involved, making it a fairly forgettable experience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★