This uninvolving and largely forgettable thriller is only worthy of note for adding Sean Penn to the ever growing list of actors seeking a second career as action stars later in their careers.
Hot on the heels of Run All Night, a surprisingly good action film, its back to the predictable with The Gunman. We’ve seen it all before, and even the chance to gawp at the admittedly impressive physique of Penn, we can’t recommend you waste any money on this.
A group of assassins on patrol in Africa are given the task of taking out a high-ranking government official. It’s a dangerous mission, and whoever pulls the trigger knows that they will have to go into hiding. Drawing the short straw, sniper Terrier (Sean Penn) is the unlucky man. He leaves Annie, (Jasmine Trinca) the woman he loves, to be looked after by his trusted friend Felix (Javier Bardem).
Years later, in another part of Africa, Terrier’s new reclusive life is destroyed when he is rooted out by another group of mercenaries. With a price on his head, he must track down the men he once worked with to find out why he is a dead man walking. His past has taken a toll on his own health too, so the battle to survive is doubly difficult.
As you can imagine, when Penn’s character goes back to find old acquaintances he finds as many foes as friends. The duplicitous rules of their world have been depicted many times before, and in more convincing fashion. When we are first introduced to the Rogues Gallery that surround Terrier its relatively easy to figure out who we will later see facing off against our hero. In the case of Javier Bardem this isn’t just signposted, it’s yelled in your face at a high volume thanks to repeated “sly” looks just off screen.
Bardem isn’t the only one who is wasted in this film. Idris Elba is given a high billing, but we hardly see or hear from him. He plays a shadowy agent who is ostensibly there to assist, but in reality he is just adding some current star power to the older cast. Maybe “Da Yoof” will come because the man who would be Bond is in it?
Ray Winstone too has little to work with. He and Penn have fun in some London-centric scenes early on, but once they are moved from the cosy setting of you average East End boozer, things start to all feel like Taken-lite in the familiar European locales.
Penn is good in the lead in terms of making for a believable action hero. He has clearly stuck to his “method” principles and is suitably bulked up for the role. He’s much-too-good an actor to be slumming it in mediocre nonsense like this.
A lot of the blame can be thrust upon director Pierre Morel. Having made the excellent free-running/martial arts extravaganza District 13, he then made Taken, and kick-started a genre that feels as tired as most of the men who star in his films look. The Gunman isn’t as bad as his utterly woeful From Paris with Love (which sits firmly somewhere in the top ten worst films i’ve ever seen), but is some way off being any good.