Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Directed by: Pierre Morel
Starring: Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone
Another week at the multiplex seems to inevitably mean the arrival of another geriatric action movie. If it’s not Liam Neeson saving his family from Turkish bandits or Sly Stallone & his band of aged merry men fighting a mundane bunch of mercenaries, it’s Keanu Reeves avenging the murder of his faithful dog (in the forthcoming John Wick).
This week however, it’s the turn of Sean Penn to join the growing number geri-action stars in The Gunman. With Taken director Pierre Morel calling the shots, at the very least we could hope for a fierce pace and a succession of ferocious action sequences. And to the film’s credit there is certainly a brutal charm that can be gleaned from The Gunman, but for the most part this is an action thriller that’s frankly too boring.
Penn plays Terrier, a former mercenary who was significantly involved in the assassination of a political minister in the Republic of Congo some years earlier. Now, the repercussions of the minster’s death have resurfaced, and a paid hit squad is coming after Terrier and his former associates. And with no clue as to who is behind the contract, Terrier travels to Europe in order to discover and destroy this new threat to his life.
With an effective air of intensity and an obvious physicality, Penn certainly proves himself to be a proficient action man. However, he’s lumbered with a thankless role that only really requires him to point and shoot whilst maintaining a forceful facial expression. There is a subplot involving Terrier’s on-going battle with the effects of brain damage, and another involving a former girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca), but both simply seem tacked on as devices that give the proceedings greater jeopardy and are incompetently forgotten about at various intervals.
Thankfully Morel’s eye for action hasn’t diminished, despite having not made a film since 2010s From Paris With Love. Under the director’s control, DP Flavio Martínez Labiano shoots the action with an efficient energy, and ensures that the camera never becomes so shaky as to bring on a migraine. As with Taken, the violence is a rough and ruthless mix of martial arts and gunplay that’s effortlessly exhilarating at times, with an extended assault on a Spanish villa and a chase through the crowds at a bullfighting ring both offering plenty of bang for your buck.
Despite the presence of such heart-pounding thrills though, there’s nothing to truly get excited about here. For the most part, The Gunman is simply a bland boys’ own adventure with a standard setup and predictable payoff. Don MacPherson’s script is loaded with admirable attempts to address the on-going crisis in the Congo, but Morel shows little interest in such threads and messily discards them in order to focus all of our attentions on the far less stimulating central plot.
Indeed, the only conflict you truly find yourself invested in is the one that appears to be playing out between the supporting male cast of Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba. Whereas Penn runs around playing a character that lacks meat, they all ironically seem to be intent on seeing who can carve the thickest slice of ham.