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Movie Review: The Gunman

The Gunman wastes its considerable talent on cheap and uninspired action.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director Pierre Morel's The Gunman, Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) lives a double life: he's a security guard working with a humanitarian effort to build a runway in the violent Congo. But at night, he's part of a contract sniper team awaiting their next mission. Unfortunately, Jim's fallen for the aid worker Annie (Jasmine Trinca), whom on the night of the assassination he must leave without warning. Fast forward 8 years and Jim has returned to Congo to drill wells in an effort to balance both his violent past and curb his growing mental blackouts. But when a team descends on his workplace with the intention of killing him, Jim must uncover who wants him dead. Is it his former teammate Cox (Mark Rylance), his buddy Stanley (Ray Winstone), the aid-worker-turned-businessman Felix (Javier Bardem), or the shadowy DuPont (Idris Elba)? As the truth emerges and Annie's life is put in danger, Jim must revisit his deadly past and seek closure before Annie - and his own life - is lost.

The Gunman is a mess from the beginning, spiraling out of control with unnecessarily-sophisticated plot lines, terrible performances, and proof that perhaps the 'man with a gun' plot that make Liam Neeson so famous is done. The first 30 minutes starts off roughly, with Jim, Felix, and Annie in a love triangle that takes too long to play out and that stretches believability. When Jim learns that Felix has moved in on his girl, married her, and even endorsed an adoption - for reasons that are never explained - Jim should have taken the higher road and found ways to protect them, not drive a wedge between them. And of course there's the expected moment of coitus between our lost lovers, which is clunky and becomes the victim of poor pick-up-shots (Annie's wearing a bra in one scene, but never puts one on in the other).

But continuity errors are the least of Gunman's problems. The script - co-written by Penn and Don McPherson - is based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, which explains why Penn was cast in the lead role. Its second greatest failure - the poor development of its characters and the one-note nature of its villains - are so easily detectable that any sense of danger is totally removed. Other fundamental problems turn up, with the steely veteran Jim suddenly nursing PTSD after the Congo assassination, only to magically not need any pills after the second act. And then there's the ending, with Jim re-hooking up with his girl after seemingly headed to the Interpol firing squad in the previous scene. Such an investigation would have taken years, with Jim in the slammer no matter how much information he have them. But who cares, this is a B-action movie and we're here to see bad ass dudes doing stuff with guns and no shirts on.

Truth be told, the best part of Gunman lies in those guns...Penn's muscles, that is. His ripped physique looks like he was trying out for Wolverine, which actually might have worked due to the actor's very short stature (he's only 5'8"). But nothing short of a rewrite will help this epic waste of its considerable talent. It's difficult to get behind someone like Penn, not because he can't act but because the role isn't suited for him. When Elba finally does arrive during the second act, it's clear that he and Penn would have been better off switching roles, the Brit proving time and again that he deserves his own franchise but seems limited in these overblown cameos. Bardem is an incredible actor, but his performances usually dance on the edge of sanity, sometimes paying off (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men) and sometimes ending in disaster. Here, Felix is inexplicably drunk nearly all the time, and it's not long before we're actually happy that he gets the hook. His marriage to Annie feels fabricated, with any explanation as to why it happened in the first place reduced to a simple, "I owe him." It was nice to see a fresh face in Trinca but she's nearly 30 years Penn's youth and could have been Jim's daughter, representing another poor casting choice on Morel's part. This is perhaps the film's greatest failure, but one that could have been corrected, had the creative team pushed their action up and the cheesy dialogue out. Its failure becomes all the more pronounced when you consider it actually appeared on our March Films on Our Radar post, tearing away any hope we had for a great under-the-radar surprise.

Morel has been a part of a revolution in film-making, that of the 'old man with a gun' motif. It's clear that neither he nor Penn are the right fit for it going forward. The Gunman fails in nearly aspect, perhaps signaling the end of what could have been a franchise-starter for Penn, but which proves that great casting and a good creative team can still make bad film.

The Gunman is Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality and has a runtime of 115 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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