Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba
Running Time: 115 mins
Release Date: March 20th
Sean Penn makes the move to middle-aged action hero in Pierre Morel’s The Gunman; an action thriller based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s 1980s French crime novel The Prone Gunman. You could be forgiven for approaching this film with an amount of trepidation, with Morel’s previous directing highlights being 2004’s futuristic French thriller District 13 and 2008’s Liam Neeson vehicle Taken. If you’re expecting action and violence with a side order of cheese then you won’t be disappointed.
The film opens with a suspiciously in-depth Sky News report from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country torn apart by years of civil war. Penn’s character, Jim Terrier, is a private contractor, ostensibly tasked with protecting NGO staff, but whose side mission is to be part of a hit squad paid for by the western mining corporations, keen to capitalise on the opportunities the unrest presents them. Terrier’s next hit is on the Minister of Mining, and once completed he must flee the country, a plot device never really explained, but vital to the story, as the squad’s handler, Felix, is in love with Terrier’s girlfriend and wants to use this opportunity to separate them.
8 years later, Terrier returns to the Congo to dig wells, and is attacked in what appears to be an attempted assassination. To find out what’s going on Terrier embarks on a pan-European game of cat and mouse to find out who is responsible and why. While doing so he bumps into old friends and foes, and is reacquainted with the love of his life, now unhappily married to his old squad handler, Felix.
What sounds like a Bourne-esque European romp of a thriller unfortunately turns out to be a flabby mess of a movie. The same cannot be said for Sean Penn, who is at pains to get his toned physique on camera at every opportunity, a physique which is really at odds with his aged, lined, face. In the movie’s painfully prolonged climax we are treated to Penn, topless, but for a bulletproof vest, looking for all the world like someone’s grandfather on the way to an N*SYNC reunion concert.
The film’s co-stars fail to turn up en-masse as well. Javier Bardem spends the majority of the movie falling over drunk, Mark Rylance hams it up as a stereotypical English ‘baddie’, and Ray Winstone is Ray Winstone. The only female character, Penn’s love interest Jasmine Trinca, begins the movie as a strong willed, courageous trauma surgeon in a war zone, but ends the movie as yet another voiceless plot device, ie. something for our male hero to save.
For all its faults there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than watching The Gunman. Director Morel’s camera experience shows in kinetic action scenes and some particularly vicious hand to hand combat. All in all though, The Gunman falls well short of its mark. It aims to be a stylish, intelligent thriller with a point to make about faceless multinational corporations, in the end what we get is a by the numbers action movie that never deals with some of the larger questions it unwittingly poses, like why we’re supposed to empathise with a cold-blooded killer who at no point in the movie shows any real remorse for what he’s done.