Film Review by Kam Williams
Sean Penn Matches Wits with Worthy Adversaries in Action-Packed Cat-and-Mouse Thriller
Pierre Morel’s riveting revenge thriller Taken made over veteran thespian Liam Neeson into an action star at 55. Now, the clever French director is ostensibly attempting to repeat the trick for Sean Penn, who turns the same age later this year. In
The Gunman, Penn plays Jim Terrier, a hit man for hire surreptitiously operating in the Congo while posing as a bodyguard for a healthcare clinic.
The story’s point of departure is 2006, where we find him serving as a sniper on a team of assassins hatching an elaborate plan to assassinate the country’s Minister of Mining. After pulling it off without a hitch, Jim leaves the country uneventfully before vanishing into the ether, but not before asking a friend, Felix (Javier Bardem), to take care of his gorgeous girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor also working for with the NGO.
Fast-forward 8 years and Jim returns to the Congo only to barely survive an ambush by a trio of goons. Since it’s clear that his cover must have been blown by a confederate, the startled spy abandons Africa for England to determine exactly who wants him dead. He comes out of the proverbial cold in London to confront Terry Cox (Mark Rylance), an ex-partner in crime who claims to have retired his Kevlar vest for a cushy corporate job.
Terry suggests the man Jim might be looking for is Felix, since the duplicitous backstabber married Annie in Jim’s absence. So, our jilted hero’s next port-of-call is Barcelona, the city where the cozy couple has settled down to live high on the hog.
This contentious state of affairs jumpstarts The Gunman, a cat-and-mouse caper that telegraphs its punches while featuring a dizzying mix of fisticuffs, gunplay, international intrigue and old-fashioned romance. The picture is perfectly passable as an action genre offering, yet pales in comparison to Taken, between its Swiss cheese plot and a plethora of distracting sidebars which tend to undercut rather than amp up the tension.
For instance, Idris Elba arrives onscreen late in the adventure in a red herring of a role as an inscrutable Interpol Agent. Equally wasted is Ray Winstone as a cockney-accented, former co-conspirator of Jim’s. Basically, The Gunman boils down to a Sean Penn vehicle affording the surprisingly-buff (if long in the tooth) matinee idol ample opportunities to put his pecs on display in high-impact fight sequences as well as lingering love scenes.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and graphic violence
In English and Spanish with subtitles
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Open Road Films