“The Gunman” – Open Road Films(NEW YORK) — This sniper flick should have been taken out long before it got to the screen.
I knew next to nothing about The Gunman going into it, aside from the fact I liked the idea of Sean Penn doing an action film. When you throw a two-time Oscar winner into a genre that’s become predictable and stale, the assumption is something special will happen on screen.
Well, you know what they say about people who assume things.
The action/thriller stars Penn as Jim Terrier, an ex-special forces government contractor who’s done some bad things, and is forced to go on the run following a job in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He leaves behind a girl, takes a shot at redemption, and in the end gets pulled back into a life of violence for one last mission in order to save himself and the woman he loves.
We’ve seen it before.
But The Gunman starts out differently, tricking us into thinking we’re getting a geopolitical thriller set amid the violence, poverty, and natural resource exploitation of central Africa. That movie, I wanted to see. But sadly, this movie devolves into just another action flick where people chase each other around a house with guns, and the bad guys couldn’t put a bullet in a cow from five feet away while our hero can shoot the wings off a fly.
It was about at the point of this big shootout, a little over halfway through the film, that I started caring less about the movie, and more about whether it would be over in time for me to grab a sandwich at this one place before it closed. Then I checked my email on my phone, twice, looking up in time to catch Sean Penn with his shirt off, again.
A quick sidebar on that: Sean Penn looks pretty damn good with his shirt off. That for some will be worth the price of admission. It’s pretty impressive, because at 54 he’s in far better shape than most 24-year-olds. So if you take a date, guys, just know that later in the evening she’ll be thinking about him, not you.
Or perhaps you’ll both be thinking about how ridiculous the final action sequence is, or the unnecessary brutality of one of the final kills, which is shot disturbingly close-up. It’s as if The Gunman couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a smart thriller or bloody action romp, so it decided to do both — poorly.
And even when the film gets stuff right, it gets it wrong. Right: casting Idris Elba as a smooth-talking Interpol agent opposite Sean Penn; the two of them together have dynamic chemistry. Wrong? They share the screen for what seems like fewer than five minutes.
Javier Bardem is fun, too, as Penn’s wacked-out adversary, but we’ve seen shades of this kind of thing from him before in films including Skyfall and The Counselor. Even so, he’s still enjoyable to watch.
It’s ironic that the movie’s most forgettable character is the woman Sean Penn’s character can’t forget, played by Jasmine Trinca. The problem isn’t Trinca, it’s the role — another one-dimensional female lead who has basically two jobs: look pretty and/or look scared while the men fight.
So while it’s fun to see Sean Penn get his action hero swagger on, I think we all expect more from him than the bland, highly predictable shoot-em-up that is The Gunman.
And not to leave you hanging — the sandwich shop, sadly, was closed.
Two out of five stars.
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