The Gunman Review
8 years after a covert mission in the blood-drenched Republic of Congo, former spec ops soldier Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) tries to reconnect with long lost love Annie (Jasmine Trinca) whilst on the run from mysterious antagonists who pursue him from London to Barcelona.
The Gunman comes to us from Taken director Pierre Morel, and it’s very clear from the outset that Sean Penn hasn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that he’s essentially playing a role intended for Liam Neeson: gravelly voice? Check. Former soldier? Check. Old dog, new tricks? Check. The difference is that whilst Neeson brought a sizeable amount of street cred to his later action roles, Penn really doesn’t have much going for him besides Milk and being recognised as ‘that bloke who used to be married to Madonna’.
Everyone else on screen chooses to play the grumble game, with appearances from Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba pushing the levels of grunting from Nick Nolte to Batman. The unsinkable cast list has very little to do besides stand around delivering exposition, and even Javier Bardem giving a brief spot doing his usual shtick (scary hair, wavering accent, stuttered cackling etc.) is dropped from the billing too soon, because God forbid anyone does something other than mumble. Poor Jasmine Trinca as the boring love interest/token female character looks so left out surrounded by the gravel factory she’s often spied mouthing Penn’s lines before he speaks, desperate to gain any foothold.
One thing that Morel understands is how to give action scenes impact. Sure, the shaky-cam is horribly overdone and makes the choreography unwatchable but the thumping sound design, emphasis bloody violence and military hardware porn gives reasonable heft to the proceedings; if you are going to see this, see it on the loudest and stupidest-sized screen you can. The final set-piece might feel like an off-shoot from a lesser Bond movie, but it has the good sense to reign itself in, tying up everything surprisingly neatly considering the cobbled, hither-and-thither nature of the overall narrative.
The notable setting of the Congo conflict gives the piece brief flashes of depth, but it’s apparent that Morel isn’t interested in that story, choosing to exploit rather than explore. His real interests lie in Sean Penn running around snarling and shooting people, which – while perfectly adequate for an 80-minute exploitation romp – won’t cut the mustard in a two-hour thriller.