2015, R, 115 mins.
2015, R, 115 mins.
Sean Penn as Terrier / Javier Bardem as Felix / Ray Winstone as Stanley / Jasmine Trinca as Annie / Peter Franzťn as Reiniger
Directed by Pierre Morel / Written by Sean Penn, Pete Travis, and Don Mcpherson
GUNMAN is a beyond obvious attempt for director Pierre Morel to return to
the middle-aged action hero template that he popularized with the first
TAKEN film. This time,
though, he has multi-Oscar winning actor Sean Penn at the helm, whom at a
ripe age of 54 has never looked as ripped and chiseled as he does here.
Thereís no doubt that Penn certainly looks the part of a rough
and rugged action hero and, at face value, seems to want to follow in Liam
Neesonís footsteps of reenergizing and redefining his career (from being
a stern and solemn dramatic star to a kick-ass action hero). I have nothing wrong, per se, with Penn and Morel wanting to
orchestrate a bruised knuckled, globetrotting thriller in the TAKEN vibe
featuring a withered and aging protagonist.
the main problem with THE GUNMAN is that it wholeheartedly lacks the
sensationalistic and sordid grindhouse thrills of the first few TAKEN
films. This is a film Ė largely spearheaded by Pennís decent,
but overly dour and charmless performance Ė that takes itself way, way
too seriously. Penn not only
is the on-screen hero in THE GUNMAN, but he also co-produced and co-wrote
the film, which means that a healthy dosage of real world topical themes
(in this filmís case: Congo brutality, ecological sins perpetrated by
big corporations, and natural resource exploitation) will factor heavily
into the proceedings. THE
GUNMAN does indeed pose and ask some big issue questions during its
running time, but it can never reconcile between being a weighty and high
minded political thriller about mineral wealth in one African nation and
an enjoyably blood-soaked action flick with a preposterously high body
count. This film wages war
within itself, which has the counterproductive effect of leaving it
feeling lopsided and sluggishly executed.
though, thereís an initial thrill to be had of seeing Penn transform
himself into intrepid and ruthlessly lethal trained killer (granted, how
his character manages to maintain a killer physique and limitless
endurance levels while being a chain smoker is beyond me).
The film opens in 2006 in the war-ravaged Congo where a former
Special Forces operative turned assassin for hire Jim Terrier (Penn) works as a
security advisor for a mining company.
With a loyal band of fellow mercs, Jim partakes in all sorts of
off-the-books clandestine missions, one of which includes killing the
countryís Minister of Mining, whoís making matters rather difficult
for the corporate big wigs that fund Jim and his men.
Needless to say, Jim and his squad are successful, but it leads him
being forced to leave his life behind, including abandoning the love of
his life Anna (Jasmine Trinca) without telling her know why.
years pass with Jim being on the run as an international fugitive, but he
manages to eek out a life in hiding doing humanitarian work.
Unfortunately, when an apparent hit is placed on his life Ė most
likely perpetrated by his former allies in an effort to permanently shut
him up Ė Jim find himself on the run again.
He reconnects with Annie, whom is now married to one of Jimís
former work colleagues in Felix (Javier Bardem), but when suspicions point
towards him being part of a larger conspiracy, Jim is forced to take Annie
in tow and escape death, not to mention that he must now desperately
discover the identities of all parties that want him dead.
Trekking through Barcelona while avoiding all sorts of vile hitmen,
Jim manages to put all of the convoluted pieces together to get a clear
picture of his assailants and their motives, which forces him on the
GUNMAN boasts solid direction from Morel, who beings some much needed style
and pacing to the film, especially during moments when narrative momentum
sometimes stalls to elephantine levels.
He crafts some brutally effective bone-crunching and artery spewing
action sequences, which more than deserve the filmís R-rating.
Unlike TAKEN, Morel and Penn at least are attempting to infuse some
meaningful themes into the proceedings that makes THE GUNMAN feel more
politically and socially relevant than the average action-thriller.
There are not many Hollywood genre films like this that are trying
to place its thematic crosshairs on how Western corporations abuse the
people and mineral wealth of a foreign nation.
At the outset, Penn and Morel have legitimately
interesting things to say in this film.
itís the manner that THE GUNMAN approaches its would-be compelling story
arcs and issues that ultimately does it in.
Itís one thing to throw problematic queries at viewers with real
world ties, but THE GUNMAN never really addresses them in any meaningful
discourse. As a piece of frank political commentary, the film is very
talky Ė make that extremely so Ė and has characters engage in ample
dialogue exchanges explaining particulars, how characters relate to one
another, and so forth. Itís
not really until the final 40 minutes or so that THE GUNMAN fully embraces
its standardized action-thriller accoutrements and develops a more
exhilarating forward drive, but by this point itís all for naught.
Also, for a film thatís trying to be crafty and intelligent with
its premise, the script makes some stupid blunders in logic along the way.
And donít get me started on Jimís brain condition, a severe
health malady that creeps up into the story early on for no other apparent
reason but to make this seemingly unstoppable character conveniently
vulnerable to his enemies later on.
film is awash with stellar actors that do what they can with the middling
material that aggressively undervalues their respective characters.
Bardemís talent is wasted, playing what few scenes he has as a
jealous drunk on autopilot. Idris
Elba and Ray Winestone both show up as two unlikely sources of support for
Jim and they both give THE GUNMAN some class, albeit in heinously
underwritten roles. The
luminous Jasmine Trinca is essentially reduced to pure window dressing and
a pathetic damsel in distress. If
wasting the cast were not bad enough, THE GUNMAN then careens towards a
spectacularly silly climax in a crowded bullfighting arena, during which
time not one of the thousands of spectators Ė or any security guards,
for that matter Ė seem to notice a heavily armed Jim facing off
against his equally aggressive adversaries.
And you just know by this point that the main baddie is going to
have a chance meeting with a rampaging bullís horns.
Pennís attempts to reach Neeson-ian levels of action-hero bankability are respectable, but he never seems to infuse much warmth or humor in his character at all. Heís essentially a robotic killing machine thatís hard to relate to and develop a rooting interest in. I found myself enjoying the action beats here in modest dosages, and Morel is a good architect for delivering on-screen mayhem. Regrettably, THE GUNMAN is pretty shapeless and muddled overall in terms of exploring its noble intentions and themes and eventually devolves into obligatory been-there-done-that chases, fist and firefights, and wanton senselessness. After seeing TAKEN I genuinely yearned to see the next hard-edged Neeson cinematic slugfest featuring his character seeking bloody retribution. After seeing THE GUNMAN I yearned to see Penn return to his comfort zone of dramatic films and stay away from action-thrillers altogether.