The Gunman is a thriller that’s severely lacking in lustre: it’s no surprise that it flopped earlier this year, and the poor reviews it received at the time of its release seem entirely justified. Pierre Morel’s film has plenty of star power, at least, and it looks like Sean Penn’s trying to muscle in on Liam Neeson’s generous share of the old man action flick market, as he spends much of the running time being Really Good At Killing People (which is handy, because he doesn’t really do much else) in a Neeson-esque fashion. His character, the bizarrely-named Jim Terrier (to which I say: ‘why not go for “Rick Poodle” and give us all a much-needed laugh?’), is an ex-special forces mercenary lone wolf black-ops agent who doesn’t do what he’s told and squints a lot and is regularly topless and smokes cigarettes like a maaaan and has a code that he sticks to and has a load of passports stashed away and blah de blah de blah de blah. We first meet him in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is supposedly providing security to a mining company, though in fact he’s a member of a hit squad that has been paid to assassinate the country’s Minister for Mining, who wants to renegotiate all the unfair contracts his country has made with visiting corporations. Despite the fact tough-guy Terrier has clearly done this kind of thing day-in, day-out for years, this latest cold-blooded murder sends him into a bad place, bizarrely triggering a debilitating cognitive disease as well as a huge crisis of conscience: when we next see him, eight years later, he’s back in the country doing penance as a charity worker with an NGO, building wells for small communities. (At least Jim Terrier has more time for the African country and its people than director Morel and the film’s three writers, of which Penn is one: the political situation in the DCR is conveyed via the hackneyed technique of brief, simplified news reports, while only one African character gets a name, a line and something to do.)
The action moves to Europe, and mainly to Spain. Terrier has a nemesis, of sorts, in the shape of Javier Bardem’s odious, one-dimensional Felix, who is introduced after one minute with the kind of rumbling bass note on the soundtrack that leaves you in no doubt as to his duplicitous and evil nature. Felix – a fully-paid up member of the Society of Professional Arseholes – marries Terrier’s girlfriend Annie (Jamine Trinca) after the assassination, when Jim goes into hiding, but the three are re-united in Barcelona. Here Bardem chews his way through so much scenery I doubt there’s much of the city left for anyone to visit, the highlight being the most unrealistic portrayal of a drunk man I’ve seen for some time. Anyway: someone is out to get Terrier for his part in the earlier murder, for some reason or other, and it could be Felix, or it could be Mark Rylance’s ex-special forces black ops lone wolf mercenary, or it could be Ray Winstone’s cockney geezer stereotype, or it could be Idris Elba’s Interpol agent, who is the kind of spook that mysteriously appears out of nowhere, says something vaguely cool or cryptic, and departs after leaving a card with his name and number on it so that he can conveniently return to the film at a later, crucial point. Yeesh. The male supporting actors here are really poor, the film’s three Terrier vs Henchmen battles in three different locations appear back-to-back, while the script is often laughably bad. At one point Penn’s character actually says the words ‘I was video-documenting on my cellphone earlier like a goddamn wazoo’. Well, I’m sick of text-documenting on my computer like a goddamn wazoo, and refuse to spend any more time and effort discussing a movie that is every bit as tired and uninspired as its title.
Directed by: Pierre Morel.
Written by: Don Macpherson, Pete Travis, Sean Penn. Based on The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba.
Cinematography: Flavio Martinez-Labiano.
Editing: Frédéric Thoraval.
Music: Marco Beltrami.
Running Time: 115 minutes.