Rated: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 20, 2015 Released by: Open Road Films
Action-minded helmer Pierre Morel tries to do for a buff socially-conscious acclaimed middle-aged character actor Sean Penn (Gangster Squad, The Tree of Life, also, remember the late Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter) what he did for Liam Neeson in Taken, but with much less lean, silly thrills. Romantic entanglement will ensue with the kind of explosiveness that Morel is known for when it comes to chases and gunplay, in the vein of what Jason Bourne endured.
The Gunman (a little dated, even if one stays through the closing credit scroll) has Penn's former special-ops agent Jim Terrier does intimidating mercenary tasks in Congo's Democratic Republic, a kind of bodyguard, security fellow with intimacy with very slinky French relief specialist Annie (Jasmine Trica, in her first English-language role).
The outset looks to have much promise with Terrier's handler Felix (Javier Bardem of The Counselor, Skyfall) retaining Terrier in 2006 to eliminate a major figure that plunges the viewer into socio-political catastrophe with marauding militias around man orphans and corpses. So, it does draw much attention before immediacy in dubious politics and evasive business interactions are shortchanged by rampant,escalating mayhem.
In the present, the morally-compromised Terrier had fled chaos and country, as well as Annie, quickly falling into frisky Felix's comfort zone. He'll keep busy digging wells in distant villages, but his past puts him in a calculated harm's way, leading to border crossing espionage activity with a convoluted web of conspiracy not so unlike the aforementioned cinema pairing with Nicole Kidman.
Penn stars, co-wrote and produces here as settings of Barcelona, London, and Gibraltar become prominent, especially the former (when it comes to the bullfighting) as Terrier has developed a kind of disorder common in films like American Sniper. But, the action isn't deftly staged well by an arguably ambitious Morel and the scripting is really suspect leading to much unimaginative vacuity especially when most of the story heads out of Africa. It was built up into a viable critique given the actor's political leanings and the director's sensibilities. Does this art represent vain wiggling as a filthy shirt is often off for faceless thugs to be dispatched by a high-powered assault rifle?
Not that the actor doesn't do his utmost to rise above the convolutions without the deadpan cynicism of the unlikely hit afforded to a well-cast Neeson, but the interest flags amidst the imperialism with nagging indolence. A neurological disability is life-threatening to Jim used as character development but not as credibly integrated plot-wise as Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass did in the propulsive, poignantly profitable Matt Damon saga. Just so the tale can conveniently wobble woefully further into inertia.
Stereotyping and narrative pawns reduce the potential of backup from a theatricalizing Bardem (who was a part of a strong, but inefficient cast in the aforementioned Ridley Scott take on Cormac McCarthy starring Michael Fassbender), Mark Rylance (also chewing the scenery as another mercenary colleague), Ray Winstone (as an underwritten East End mobster), as well as the eye-candy and reactions of an amateurishly trite Trica. Idris Elba (No GoodDeed) is also shortchanged in his later appearance as a member of Interpol who has risible dialogue with Penn with stuff about a tree house eliciting snickers.
Unfortunately, Penn being in front of the camera and the prime shaker and mover of The Gunman lets envy (or a bump on the head or a loud bang like what threatens Jim) get the better of him and makes some wish the proud humanitarian and activist could do more of what he does best as exemplified by Into The Wild and The Pledge in more thoughtful fare. Even he made more of an oddly affecting impression in Ben Stiller's stilted The Secret Life of Walter Mitty than this punctured, wishy-washy, destructive placard.