Directed by Pierre Morel
Starring Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinica, Javier Bardem
Terrier (Sean Penn) finds himself on the run after his mercenary unit is involved in the assassination of a government minister in the Congo. When a hit team rediscovers him eight years later, he must once again delve into his past to find out who wants him dead and why. However, he is not as young as he once was and a lifetime of fighting has left a mark on his health.
The Gunman is a bit of a mess. For everything it does right it just manages to do more wrong. On the plus side it does have an interesting take on small unit tactics, presenting a sense of realism to its action sequences. Both heroes and villains actually try to think their way through an engagement, leading to some intense action sequences that are generally above the usual Hollywood run and gun affair (where all the bad guys have the marksmanship of Imperial stormtroopers). It sets up a world of realistic, and intricate tactical engagement that can be tense and thrilling to watch… and then it kills someone with a bull, has a pistol match range with a sniper rifle or something else as equally stupid, shattering that illusion and destroying all the previous hard work of setting up that reality.
Then there is the acting. Penn is serviceable, the 54 year old losing no opportunity to show off his still-buff body in numerous shower scenes. He mutters, squints and frowns his way through the movie, convicningly portraying a professional (albeit somewhat dull) highly trained merc. He may lack chemistry with co-star Jasmine Trinca, but he is far from the worst thing in this film. It is the rest that are the problem. With the exception of Idris Elba (who is barely in it, but seems to be having a blast), and Ray Winstone (who even sleepwalking through a role is still Ray fucking Winstone) everyone else seems to have legitimately forgotten how to act. Javier Bardem (Skyfall) telegraphs everything like he is in a pantomime, presenting a character that would be more at home in Adam West’s Batman than a world of corporate black ops and intrigue. Mark Rylance doesn’t even have this much of a clue, and figures that combining blandness with the occasional mad dog rant is enough characterisation to get him across the line.
There are the bones of a good thriller here. The subject of corporations hiring mercenaries to engage in negotiation and politics by other means is rich and interesting fodder for storytelling, and even though the tale of The Gunman is simple, it could produce something solid. However, Taken director Pierre Morel has just handled this poorly, seemingly unsure of what he wants to create. Instead we get a work that desperately wants to be taken serious while feeding us Hollywood action clichés, constant overacting and heavy handed messages about third world exploitation. As such The Gunman strays wide of its mark.