Author: J.A. Hyde
March 13, 2015

SYNOPSIS: THE GUNMAN, the new action thriller from Pierre Morel, the director of TAKEN, stars Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance.

The Gunman marks actor Sean Penn’s first foray into the hero/action genre – or should I say aging hero/action genre.

At 55, he’s younger than Liam Neeson or Bruce Willis, but he’s still on the long side for the kind of physical prowess that would be needed for the kind of feats his character pulls off. Don’t get me wrong – he’s obviously dedicated to the role. He’s admirably beefed up and does his physical fighting with the kind of steely precision that we’ve come to expect from mercenary assassins in films. It’s just that we’ve seen this before – many times before.

Penn plays Jim Terrier, a mercenary working for a shadowy company in the Congo. The film begins in 2006 when he’s assigned to assassinate the Minister of Mining by his superior, Felix (Javier Bardem). Felix has an ulterior motive. He covets Jim’s girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor working for a relief mission. He informs Jim and the other potential gunmen that whoever fires the kill shot is required by the “company” to leave the African continent. Well, guess who that turns out to be?

This scenario strains credulity, first because Annie seems content not knowing what Jim does, and secondly, because Jim claims to love Annie above everything else. Suddenly, after Jim’s departure from the Congo, the film leaps 8 years ahead. Jim has returned to the Congo to help dig wells to provide desperately-needed fresh water for the native population. He has never, in 8 years, tried to contact Annie to let her know he’s alive and back in their old stomping grounds. Really?!

To further strain credulity, several heavily armed men show up at his remote location to try to kill him. As any fan of this genre knows, you’re going to need more than half a dozen men to kill a guy like Jim. He escapes, of course, and heads back to Europe to seek answers. His first stop is London where one of his fellow mercenaries from the 2006 debacle, Cox (Mark Rylance), is now head of a highly successful, but also shadowy, company. He tells Jim that Felix has now returned to Spain, but that trying to talk to him could be risky.

You know that such warnings are useless to a guy like Jim, so in spite of the fact that a bunch of bad guys are already after him, he goes to Spain. There he enlists the help of his one trustworthy old friend, Stanley (Ray Winstone), to find him a safe house and equipment for his search for “truth”. He finds Felix in Barcelona, insanely wealthy from running another “company,” and married to Annie.

After this, the usual chases, gun battles, explosions and such ensue. By now, even with all the action, the film feels tedious. The only thing new and different about it is that Jim has rightfully incurred brain damage from all the blows to the head and concussive explosions to which he’s been exposed over the years. Although this does add tension to the story, it also makes certain outcomes unlikely. Again, the audience is asked to believe the impossible, which is usual for this type of film.

The main thing I took away from The Gunman was a strong desire to visit Spain. The shots of Barcelona and the countryside are breath-taking. Otherwise, it’s the same old thing. Don’t get me wrong. All of the actors do fine jobs with what they’re given to work with, and it’s a better film than last week’s Run All Night. However, only die-hard fans (pun intended) of the action genre will find this film of interest. - JoAnne Hyde


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