Directed by Pierre Morel. Produced by Adrián Guerra, Peter McAleese, Andrew Rona, and Joel Silver. Written by Don Macpherson, and Pete Travis. Release date: March 20, 2015.
Didn’t we just do an “aging action hero” movie a week ago? Does anyone else find it a little odd that the studios would release two of these things so close together? Just me? Okay.
The Gunman is what you get if you take Shooter, set it in more exotic locations, and replace Mark Wahlberg with a 70-year-old chain smoker who somehow happens to have a Sylvester Stallone-style physique. Luckily for us, that already puts it ahead of 2015’s earlier “aging action hero” outings. This time around, our lead isn’t Liam Neeson; instead, we get Sean Penn, here as ripped as we’ve ever seen him. Penn plays Jim Terrier, a former special forces operative who performed an assassination that his team was contracted to do. He had to leave the love of his life, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), in order to go into hiding, but hoped that one day he’d be able to return so that they could be together. No such luck.
Our plot kicks off eight years later when Jim, doing humanitarian work in Congo, is the subject of an attempted murder. Three unknown men tried to kill him, but failed. The past is a haunting mistress, so he immediately suspects it has something to do with the aforementioned assassination. Much of The Gunman‘s first half revolves around Jim going around to various parts of Europe – Barcelona, mostly – attempting to figure out who wants to kill him and why. The second half is when we get the action, when the two sides collide, and when The Gunman actually starts to get fun.
Part of the problem with the first half is that it’s painfully obvious to anyone who’s seen even a single film of this ilk who the main villain will be. All of the investigative work that Jim has to do will eventually lead us to a conclusion that most of the audience will have long-since figured out. We also have to set a few separate pieces in motion, like the reunion between Jim and Annie, and a health condition that will hinder Jim in the least opportune moments. Time probably could have been used more efficiently, but that’s only because of how predictable the villain turned out to be. Had it actually been a mystery, it wouldn’t have felt slow; as it is, Jim is the one who feels a little slow.
Thankfully, we only get that feeling when it comes to his mental, not physical, capabilities. As mentioned, Sean Penn got himself into tremendous shape for this role. He’s proud of his physique, too, as there isn’t a point missed when he has the opportunity to take off his shirt that he doesn’t pass up. He’s Taylor Lautner here. Jim’s habit of lighting up a cigarette during any period of downtime apparently doesn’t cause him to struggle during long periods of cardio, and Sean Penn makes for a believable action hero. That’s an important point in the movie’s favor. Taken 3 failed for a lot of reasons, but one of them was because it was impossible to invest in Liam Neeson as an action star. Here, Penn pulls that off.
A moderately enjoyable but easily forgettable action movie, The Gunman is, sadly, the best of these sorts of things so far in 2015.
Perhaps it works because The Gunman was directed by Pierre Morel, who certainly knows how to film an action movie – whether it be with an older actor or younger ones. He is the man behind the original Taken, as well as the very enjoyable District 13, which was remade in America as Brick Mansions. Morel knows how to stage an action scene, and while there’s one hand-to-hand scene here that’ll remind some of the end fight in the second Expendables movie – but better, because it’s not an Expendables movie – that is edited far too rapidly, you can at least usually tell what’s going on. And if you’re someone who goes in hoping to see brutality, there are a couple of kills here that’ll make you happy. Want a hint? The final showdown takes place in a bullring.
I’ve held off on mentioning much of the supporting cast in hopes that by not doing so I won’t spoil the character reveal that you’ll likely predict anyway. But there are some important supporting actors here, and while I won’t mention their roles, I will mention them. Idris Elba is billed second, even though he only gets a handful of scenes, most of which take place toward the end. Ray Winstone adds some fun energy whenever he’s on-screen. Mark Rylance, primarily a stage actor, is really good in his few scenes. Javier Bardem acts like he’s still playing Silva from Skyfall, which doesn’t really work here, but it at least keeps things interesting. Jasmine Trinca is here to be the love interest and the damsel in distress, in that order. The Gunman is another one of these movies that doesn’t want to do anything interesting with its female characters.
It’s too bad that The Gunman had to become a pretty generic action movie, though. It starts off looking like it’s going to go a Blood Diamond route, where it’s actually about something in addition to being a movie in which beefy men shoot each other a whole bunch. But it sidesteps that in favor of the action. Maybe that’ll give it more mass appeal, but it means it becomes a film that’s instantly forgettable once it ends. You watch it, it passes the time well enough, but the next day you struggle to remember why you should care. There’s little meat on its bones.
A moderately enjoyable but easily forgettable action movie, The Gunman is the best of these sorts of things so far in 2015, but that’s really not saying a whole lot. It’s got some good action, it transforms Sean Penn into a believable action hero, and takes place in some pretty environments. Its plot is predictable and sidesteps anything of interest that it could have had to say, most of the supporting cast just comes and goes, and you’ll forget about it shortly after it ends.
Bottom Line: A decent Shooter-like film that is better than the other “aging action hero” movies of 2015, not that that’s saying much.
Recommendation: If you’re jonesing to see Sean Penn’s muscles, give it a watch.[rating=3]