Until recently the prospect of Sean Penn starring in a movie meant that while the film was likely to be a little bit tedious, he would be extremely good in it and the movie would be worth a watch. However, with Gangster Squad, Walter Mitty and The Gunman, he seems to be trying his hand at more standard fare.
Unfortunately though, all the Gunman offers is more of what we’ve seen 1,000 times before. In fact, I almost wonder if in the pact actors make with Hollywood, it includes a clause that makes it compulsory for them to star in at least one movie about an assassin having an existential crisis.
In this one Penn is mercenary sniper Terrier, who manages to take out a Congolese Minister. After the successful hit, to protect himself and his squad he must go into hiding, completely abandoning his former life, including his girlfriend. Years later he returns to Congo, only to discover that his actions caused massive fallout for the whole country, and that very soon there are killers after him. He tries to discover who has put a price on his head, and to do so he must reconnect with those from his former life.
Although with that premise you might think there’d be some space for some interesting Penn-esque left wing politics about the West’s rape of the developing world and the unthinking repercussions our actions, this is a movie from the director of Taken, and as a result any possible depth gets ripped from the movie early on.
Instead there’s a sense that the makers hoped to raise very standard material into something special by hiring an outstanding cast – including Idris Elba, Mark Rylance, Javier Bardem and Ray Winstone – but it actually has the opposite effect. The Gunman makes you wonder why so many great actors could be bothered with something that has little more to offer than the endless parade of straight-to-DVD dick-flick action movies that arrive on shop shelves, complete with dodgy gender politics and a plot that doesn’t quite hold together.
Admittedly Morel does know how to put shootouts and punch-ups together, but Penn seems constantly out of his depth and unsure what he’s doing in the role. The main reason Taken worked so well is that Liam Neeson really could sell the idea of him being this almost super-human, driven, killing machine, but by trying to be a little more realistically human, Penn merely underlines how implausible the whole movie is.
It’s unfortunate as you end up with the tedious aspects we’ve come to expect from Sean Penn movies, but without any of the things that usually make them worth watching.
Overall Verdict: Full of great actors and with a director who’s shown he knows how to do action, but the result is like they’ve bought truffles to add to instant noodles, without realising that the noodles would have been a lot better on their own.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac