Sean Penn stars in Pierre Morel’s The Gunman which is Penn’s latest film to make it to DVD and On Demand. This is not a great film, was really trashed by the critics and the box office suffered as a result. But I have to say I have seen a lot worse than The Gunman. Penn is always watchable in just about every role he takes. He has that quality to be able to balance the crazier with the calmer elements of his characters. His characters are mostly memorable because of the commitment he brings to each role, no matter who they are.
In The Guman, he plays Jim Terrier, a black bag ops assassin working in the Congo. He is part of a team led by (Felix) Javier Bardem and the two of them have the eyes for the same girl Annie (Jasmine Trinca). She is an aide worker trying to make a better life for the poorer people in the Congo. As the film opens Annie and Jim are a couple, much to the obvious disdain of Felix. Obvious to everyone except Annie and Jim, that is. When Jim is forced to do a job that conveniently makes him leave the Congo, he leaves behind Annie who is none too pleased. Pick up several years later and people in Terrier’s unit are being stalked and killed. Terrier is next in line. He flees and begins to piece together who and why they are trying to kill him. It will, of course, bring him back into the lives of Felix and Annie who are now married and living on a beautiful farm.
The Gunman is not a great film. it is predictable and formulaic, but what it has going for it is Penn who bristles with intensity in every scene. He has buffed up for this role and could give Arnold Schwarzenegger a run for his money in pumping iron. I also enjoyed relative newcomer Jasmine Trinca. She is an Italian actress who has mostly done smaller, independent films with smaller roles in those films. She is lovely and has a genuine warmth that I found to be quite inviting. I cared about her character and there was chemistry between her and Penn, so I believed their relationship for the film.
The action is well staged and director Pierre Morel should know how to do that. He has directed the first (and best) Taken film as well as the superior French version District B13 and has been a cinematographer for some of the Transporter films, as well. He does not rely too much on the shaky cam style of shooting an action scene, which has enabled some very lazy directors to squeak by with some very bad action scenes. The Gunman’s main problem is that the script seems to be on autopilot as it recycles material from any multitude of films with this plot line. But, what this film has is Penn and Trinca and they are able to elevate the tired material into a story I became somewhat intrigued by.
One of the main bad guys is played very well by Mark Rylance, who can be seen in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies as Russian spy Rudolf Abel. There is Oscar talk for Rylance’s performance in Bridge of Spies and deservedly so. In The Gunman, he plays a fellow assassin named Cox, who wants to get done with the ops and head back to the bar before it gets too late. Rylance plays Cox with a smile and a swagger, but reveals there is more to him than meets the eye. Unfortunately Idris Elba and Ray Winstone are largely wasted in throwaway roles that anybody could have done. I think if they had enhanced these characters more, it would have given The Gunman some depth that it needed.
The script, written by Penn, Don MacPherson and the awesome 2012 Dredd scribe Pete Travis (based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel, The Prone Gunman) manages to keep the mystery interesting enough that I was invested in the characters. It is not up to par with some of these writers and their previous works but it does what is needed to propel the story forward. Marco Beltrami’s score is really solid and enhances the film greatly. He has had a busy year and this is one of his better scores.
The Gunman was a flop, costing 40 million to make and only grossing about 17 million world wide. Bad word of mouth and maybe Penn’s outspoken political opinions doomed this film. Who knows. It is not a bad film, but it is hardly anything original or fresh, but there are enough elements to The Gunman that I liked to recommend it. I mean, there are far worst films out there to see (or not to see).
The Gunman- *** out of 5
The Gunman- Rated R for violence and language
The Gunman- Run Time is 115 minutes
The Gunman is available now available on DVD and Video On Demand