The Gunman full movie review - A Penntentious Action Thriller
"Taken" director Pierre Morel's bullet-riddled conspiracy thriller "The Gunman" has so many things going for it that it's a shame the whole shebang isn't as good as its best parts.
A buff, fiftysomething Sean Penn, who produced and co-scripted the film, surrounds himself with a first-rate cast that includes Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Peter Franzén, and Mark Rylance. Morel orchestrates several kinetic shootouts in a variety of striking locations. Penn and his co-stars behave like they've been coached in wielding firearms because they display far more competence than the usual gunmen in archetypical action movies. It's always harrowing when guys armed with guns pause to reload in a firefight, and reloading sometimes isn't as leisurely in "The Gunmen" as it is in some actioneers. Morel emphasizes realism to a larger degree than he did in his earlier epics "District B13," "Taken," and "From Paris with Love." Penn and company aren't acrobatic, gravity-defying combatants. Often it requires more than one shot to dispatch an adversary. Moreover, some fights degenerate into savage slugfests with knives. Everybody sports body armor so shooting and killing one's opponent isn't always effective. Morel doesn't rely on his usual ultra-fast editing either to heighten the violence or to make you flinch. If you don't immerse yourself in action movies, you will probably flinch when our hero skewers a tenacious thug in the neck with a serried knife. Similarly, Morel generates suspense by making our hero vulnerable. He suffers from head injuries that constitute his Achilles heel, and this makes his encounters with his foes suspenseful. In some ways, the Penn protagonist is comparable to Nicolas Cage's terminally afflicted CIA agent in "Dying of the Light." Head trauma issues hamper both these heroes. Predictably, Penn's head trauma interferes with his endeavors. In "The Gunman," our hero experiences so much trouble with his memory that he records anything on his smart phone. Later, this video diary saves his bacon. Our hero scrambles through in a number of scenic locations, ranging from Africa, to London, to Barcelona, and finally Gibraltar at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. "800 Bullets" lenser Flavio Labiano makes the scenery appear stunning. Lastly, "The Gunman" wraps up its shoot-on-sight shenanigans with a happy ending; the hero triumphs over the villains who die melodramatically.
In French writer Jean-Patrick Manchette's 1981 crime novel "The Prone Gunman," the protagonist's first name was Martin. Presumably, Penn preferred playing a protagonist with Jim as his first name instead of Martin. Incidentally, Manchette's novel bears partial resemblance to its cinematic adaptation. Indeed, in the novel, Martin Terrier doesn't carry out the long-range execution of a political figure, and a shadowy American spy agency employs him. Further, the woman he adores, Annie, finds him broke, boring, and bails out on him. Manchette's novel takes place in France instead of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the film, a predatory international corporation strip-mines the country's minerals with avaricious abandon. Simultaneously, the corporation maintains a team of mercenaries on its payroll. Not only are they around to protect their workers, but they also watch over the humanitarian workers attending to the natives. When the Congo's mining minister decides that this strip-mining doesn't serve the best interests of his homeland, he moves to shut down the corporation. Jim Terrier's supervisor, Felix (Javier Bardem of "Skyfall"), receives orders to eliminate the meddlesome minister, and he orders Terrier to perforate him. As a long-range sniper, nobody surpasses Terrier, and he ices the mining minister with one, extraordinary shot. Significant as the shooting is, Felix insists Terrier must clear-out of the Congo pronto. When he has to vamos, Terrier leaves behind his gorgeous girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca of "Romanzo Criminale"), who toils tirelessly as a physician in a field hospital. Clearly, a jealous Felix assigned Terrier the job so he could have Annie all to himself.
Eight years elapses, and the guilt-ridden Terrier returns to the Congo to drill water wells rather than politicians. During one outing, Terrier encounters two machete-toting maniacs and another armed with an assault rifle. Predictably, our hero disposes of his antagonists with customary aplomb. Afterward, he notices two empty vials on one man's corpse. Jim realizes with horror that this man had intended to fill those vials with his blood as verification of death. Evacuating himself from the Congo, Terrier visits his former associates to inform them about the attempt on his life. He fears some corporate kingpin has decided to clean house. Naturally, his instincts are proved correct as an army of shooters pursue him. Morel and scenarists Don MacPherson of "The Avengers" (not the Marvel Comics masterpiece), Pete Travis of "Vantage Point," and Sean Penn are obsessed with corruption on an international scale. The anonymous villain in the background that we never see is an enigmatic corporation that exploits the Congo's mineral-wealthy resources for billions. As laudable as this anti-corporate ideology is, it gets lost in this nimble actioneer and its fusillades of gunfire. Basically, the upper echelon villains are never shown when Interpol arrests them. Desperately, "The Gunman" aspires to be another "Blood Diamond," but it fails miserably by comparison. This message laden potboiler bogs down in its own pretentious pabulum. Everything that occurs between the shrewdly staged gunfights is designed to baffle if not bore you. Simultaneously, the biggest actors are squandered, too! First, Oscar winner Javier Bardem dies about an hour into the fracas. Second, you catch glimpses of Idris Elba, but this magnetic British actor is sidelined essentially until the last quarter-hour. Third, cast as a stereotypical damsel-in-distress, Jasmine Trinca makes only a minor impression as Penn's love interest. Whoever groomed Trinca's hair should go back to the canine spa that he or she quit. Talk about a bad hair day! Whatever scintillating sexuality the shapely Italian actress projected in her previous films never materializes here. Despite its enviable cast, exotic locales, and energetic action scenes, this Sean Penn shoot'em up stovepipes like a pistol that misfires.