If you’re looking for something dynamic, then look elsewhere as this is not exactly the most heart-pounding action film and frankly look elsewhere for an action film in general. ‘The Gunman’ certainly lives up to its title with weapons and shots aplenty but apart from that it fails to spice up or be a grand entry into the hall of past-40 male heroic movies.
After an assassination mission is executed by Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he’s forced to leave and eight years later this past event catches up with him leading Terrier to work out who is trying to pick him off. With old friends and an ex-flame in the mix Jim finds himself killing again to survive.
The film does come with that ‘Taken’ flavour and that is in large part to the directing style of Pierre Morel. It cannot be denied that he knows how to capture his ageing masculine stars tackling hit-men and super soldiers. The flair in executions and bloody offings is multiple and entertaining enough to watch if you’re especially into that sort of thing, but after three Taken’s and three Expendables, the daddy (or granddaddy) danger man routine is feeling worn out.
It’s pretty clear that in both directing and writing terms, this movie is attempting to carve Sean Penn out as a new muscular action figure, the bulging physique of the lead star becomes more of an odd distraction in the grand scheme of things, why on earth is he so buff for being a sniping gunman, I guess Penn is showing off perhaps!? Keeping with the writing side of things, the story fails to be overly exciting or fresh, it sticks to a standard set of tropes and throwing in this attempt at political DRC work doesn’t come across as dramatic and deep as it tries to be.
Put honestly, I think this film tries too hard to be more than one thing, Terrier gets diagnosis news that adds to the mix of loves, traumas, trusts and mistrusts, explosions and shadowing threats. A lot of these things are all predictable anyway and the plot doesn’t waver from what you’d expect and piling a dollop of cheese on top of blandness, the end plays out like a Nicholas Sparks moment.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, a couple of set pieces are done really well. The Barcelona house sequence begins with suspense and betrayal and is filled with smoke, bullets and running about. The near end scene at a bull fighting show kind of echoes that James Bond vibe of secretive talking, public meetings/deals and bloody but silly deaths as someone takes a bull by the horns.
Sean Penn takes front and centre and is good as the brute force Liam Neeson role, wrinkled foreheads and shaky looks doing the emotional work when he’s not aiming or firing a weapon. Ray Winstone is the classic Cockney geezer in a meaty role as companion and assistance to Jim. Jasmine Trinca is little more than the usual damsel in distress sadly as she looks like an actress that could have brought more to the table. Mark Rylance brings that assured televisual authoritative presence to his role as Cox. Idris Elba, well apart from somehow surviving with dignity through a bench routine and stretched analogy about tree-houses, he has a minimal character to do much with. Javier Bardem triumphs as the best performer. The domineering unnerving swagger he switches on is tense and brilliant, it’s like the part of his ‘Skyfall’ routine, sleazy but somehow inviting.
This feature is just a mediocre escape, watchable but it feels long and unconvincing, a slight few high points are soured majorly by samey attempts at gritty action, a dull lead character and bad script work.