The Gunman **1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Jasmine Trinca, Ray Winstone, and Idris Elba
Written by: Pete Travis & Don MacPherson (screenplay), based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Directed by: Pierre Morel
An all-too-familiar feeling surrounds director Pierre Morel’s latest film The Gunman. As the saying goes, familiarity does occasionally breed contempt. I cannot recommend The Gunman to you, but by acknowledging my contempt, I should be fair in saying that it is not a bad film. The performances are steady, the pacing is fine, the foreign locales are well shot, and the action is tightly edited. We’ve just seen this film too often, so we neither need, nor should we want for this film.
Sean Penn stars as Jim Terrier, a mercenary-for-hire with a heart of gold (aren’t they always?). Penn is another quinquagenarian (yes, of course I looked up the word) trying his hand at an action role, but I sincerely do not believe it was for that reason alone. It’s clear to see why Penn was attracted to the role, as it’s laced with a potent whiff of liberal guilt, topped with a crème fouettée of extreme anguish (yes, I looked up crème fouettée also). When the film begins, he’s basically a hitman, doing bad things, with little to no thought on the moral complications, and voraciously loving a woman (Jasmine Trinca). Typical man (amiright, ladies?). He’s clearly in love with this woman as well, but stays true to the ol’ mercenary code and walks away after killing the “Minister of Mining” in the Congo.
We meet up with him eight years later in a different state, working to basically right what he hath wrought. Hell, as it is wont to do, comes to breakfast for Jim, as he’s targeted while on one of his humanitarian missions. Scared stiff, he seeks out his mercenary brethren to warn them, then kill the killers before they kill him. Two of his former mates have already been offed, while the third (Mark Rylance) and fourth (Javier Bardem) are running their own multinational companies. Rylance’s character is befuddled with Jim’s story, and gives half-hearted assurances that he’ll look into it (which, of course, tells the audience that we should be leery). Bardem’s character, on the other hand, has wedded Jim’s former flame, and immediately gets on the defensive with him. We know he’s bad news, because he’s Javier Bardem.
Luckily for Jim, he’s got a pal he can rely on. If I asked you which actor was cast for the role of “trusty yet seedy English sidekick on the inside”, you’d guess Ray Winstone, right? Of course you would, and the film doesn’t disappoint. He even has a perfect trusty sidekick name in Stanley. Jim, and the plot, need Stanley to get ‘another job’, which will inject him into the situation so he can find out why he has been targeted after all this time. Of course, with international murder mysteries, we must have Interpol show up at some point, and that’s where Special Agent Awesome (Idris Elba, on-screen for all of three minutes) comes in, patiently waiting for the mercs to kill each other before he swoops in to catch the survivors in the act. It’s all very standard and not very interesting.
If could call attention to one special item in regards to this production, it is Bardem. For what seems like the umpteenth time now, he plays a role in which the character suffers some sort of massive bodily injury, contemplates or tempts death, or in which his visage is horrifically altered. It pains me to think of why he continues to accept roles like this, and for that matter, appears to enjoy them. I wonder why I haven’t sensed this before, but join me in reflection, dear reader: No Country For Old Men, The Sea Inside, Love In The Time Of Cholera, Skyfall, The Counselor, and now The Gunman. The man clearly enjoys seeing himself maimed, harmed, or in decay. You could say I’m done being excited about seeing him in films, at least until his Danse Macabre is finished already.
It sounds like I hate this, but I truly don’t. The film doesn’t offend, and is made with a deft action hand. Therein lies the issue, however. As a tried and true formula action picture, it exists with the Bournes and Bonds and Takens that came before it; I’m going to forget this one, though. I may have already. Without a single memorable line, moment, or exuberance of charisma from any character, it would take a great deal of faith or fandom in Sean Penn or Bardem to truly remember it. It simply exists, much like the Taken franchise does, but with a better actor in charge. Wait, I remembered something- when I’m a quinquagenarian, I want my veins to pop out of my skin like Penn’s do here. I’ll have what he’s having.