Film Review: The Gunman

Written by Aaron Sarnecky

Gunman Poster

The Gunman Plot Summary:

Almost a decade after assassinating a Congolese politician for a private military contractor, Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) finds himself hunted across the globe by his former employers. Jim must stay one step ahead of them if he and former girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) are going to survive.

Director Pierre Morel, of Taken fame, takes us through another action film starring an actor who’s just about as old as he can possibly be without looking completely out of place. Sean Penn, for the record, is 54 years old, but he could probably pass for being 40-something on a good day. This is irrelevant though, as the film smartly never specifies his character’s age.

Gunman pic 1

Sean Penn certainly does bring the vitality needed for this kind of role, but the real hero here is good old movie magic, particularly good cinematography, editing, and choreography. It’s definitely what this movie has going for it. It’s very well put together, from a technical standpoint. There are some good fight scenes and special effects, though the fights start to border on the ridiculous by the end of the movie.

But while that’s all fine and good, the story and characters are what really matter in a film. And that’s where the movie stumbles. It starts out well enough, with Jim acting as the titular gunman. It’s a little hard to explain why this is one of the best parts of the movie, but I’ll try. I think it comes down to anticipation. You know Jim is the gunman from all the trailers and commercials, so you want to see how it plays out, and you do. You see him set up his sniper rifle in his hotel room, you hear him listen to radio chatter, and you see him pull the trigger and make the shot.

And after it’s done, he immediately leaves the country. It’s understated for the most part, but at the same time it’s like witnessing the JFK assassination. One bullet can end a life and change the course of a country’s history.

Unfortunately, the first hour drags on quite a lot after this. There’s the bit where Jim is attacked 8 years later, but that only lasts a couple of minutes. The rest of the hour focuses on him tracking down former associates, trying to figure out who wants him dead. It’s just not very interesting. We do get to see some nice shots of London and Barcelona, but it’s little consolation. Things don’t really pick up too much until he reunites with Annie.

Gunman pic 2

I certainly hope you like Sean Penn, because he is really the only consistent star power this movie has; Felix (Javier Bardem) and DuPont (Idris Elba) just aren’t in enough of the movie. Bardem acts like a mellower version of the villain he played in Skyfall, smiling and giggling in almost every other scene he’s in. Maybe that’s just how Bardem really is. DuPont is the real missed opportunity though. He’s instantly charming, but he’s in the movie for less than 5 minutes. And speaking of 007, now I understand why so many people want Elba to be the next James Bond. Annie, meanwhile, is a pretty face but not much else.

As for Jim, the movie never gets into Jim’s head enough for my liking. He obviously feels guilt over his involvement in the assassination because it sent the Congo into chaos, but we don’t know how he justified his actions in the past. The commercials had Jim saying that they thought they were helping, but this bit of dialogue is absent from the movie. Jim implies in the film that he was acting selfishly to some degree. Perhaps Jim gained some perspective on what he was doing after things in the Congo got worse. That makes him one of the more likeable characters, I suppose.

The Gunman can be considered a sort of cautionary tale, then, warning us about the dangers of private military contractors. It would make sense, given Sean Penn’s political leanings. You can take it all as an allegory for the Iraq War. I could have sworn I saw it say he co-wrote the film during the credits, but I don’t see that anywhere online.

Ultimately, there’s no real connection to have with the characters, but there’s no glaring inconsistencies with the plot, other than the company inevitably drawing unwanted attention after botching a hit on Jim (pretty much a lose-lose whether they try again or not). Filmmakers should look to this movie for its technical quality but remember that a film can’t usually survive as an exercise of style over substance.

As for the moviegoer, I recommend skipping this movie until it potentially finds its way to TV or Netflix. But if that day never comes, know that it’s a movie you can live without.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)

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