I really wanted to like this. I really did. I feel I must make this clear going in because otherwise I fret I’m going to appear like a bit of a negative-nancy. I thought this was either going to be something really Sean Penn-y, something a bit ambitious or maybe even clever. Failing that, and based on the title, I thought I could be in for a dumb-as-a-stump actioner like Taken (also director Pierre Morel’s work. Which I liked. An opinion not shared by my editor). Sadly, it’s neither of these. It shoots for the former and misses and is too lofty in its ambitions for the latter.
The tone is set early on with some hot British newsreader action. They gravely intone that there is some manner of unpleasantness taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is intercut with the many cragged face of Penn, sporting the type of moustache that Freddie Mercury referred to as a ‘cock-duster’, looking gravely at the grave scenes surrounded by grave-faced men. And Javier Bardem. This was positive for me, I felt sure that any minute now all this gravery, or gravy if you will, would surely burst into many bullets. This does not happen and this pause allows the reader a moment to actually listen to the horseshit that is being said. The dialogue throughout the film lapses into painful exposition which insults the intelligence of the viewer and ultimately prevents any form of immersive experience.
Our hero with the face of crags, does a thing which he doesn’t like which may or may not involve the title, loses his moustache and now it’s eight years later. He’s not happy with what went down and is paying a penance of sorts through charity work. His colleagues, including The Actor Mark Rylance, all appear to be basically fine and considerably richer than him. Some people arrive, they have a beef with Ol’ Crevasse Face himself. He takes his shirt off, the audience gasp at what good nick he is in. I pause to imagine the director asking Liam Neeson to pop his top off in Taken – one of them clearly didn’t support the idea – he does his ex-special forces routine and is fine. Then nothing happens for a while until you see Glacier Chops roll one of his tectonic cheek bones to indicate that he sniffs betrayal in the air. Betrayal that takes scant seconds to figure out.
Bardem gets drunk, Ray Winston wears a wig (I hope) and Idris Elba appears to wonder why he’s there. Some more shenanigans. Sean “The Ravine” Penn isn’t fond of being betrayed and more people carry guns than the definite article in the title would have you believe. This is basically it; Jasmine Trinca appears as Annie but she may as well be referred to as ‘the woman’ for all she is given to do. She does her best, but in the end seems to purely exist to give men something talk about. Throughout the entire film I had a niggle at the back of my head. That niggle was Man on Fire and the two films bear much comparison. Where The Gunman loses out here, is not in the performances or the execution of the action sequences, these are beyond competent and are actually very strong; no the problem lies again with the dialogue and the characters themselves. I did not care about any of these people and I’m not convinced that anyone could. They are two dimensional ciphers and archetypes. You can replace Washington’s alcoholism with Stoneface Penn’s post-concussion syndrome and you still have a world weary lethal man with someone to defend against a corrupt system. As mentioned before, Trinca’s Annie is just someone to be rescued. I actually believe you could remove her from the plot altogether and the thing might actually be a little more taut and cohesive. It is tokenism in its worst form and just doesn’t need to be there.
In one sequence towards the end, Crags and The Actor Mark Rylance are spitting laboured dialogue at one another and looking tired. In the background behind the Cragster, the word “waste” can be seen throughout. It is hard to think of a more elegant summation of a film that could have been interesting or fun and managed to be neither. It isn’t awful, it’s flawed. It would be perfectly possible to watch this and enjoy it. I simply think that with a cast of this pedigree and a director who gives good action sequence, they deserved a better script.
A workmanlike three out of five. Could have been a thought-provoking four, could have been a fun two. Instead it’s a meh three.
Dir: Pierre Morel
Scr: Don MacPherson, Pete Travis, Sean Penn
Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Mark Rylance, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba
Prd: Ron Halpern, Sean Penn, Andrew Rona
DOP: Falvio Martinez Labiano
Music: Marco Beltrami
Run time: 115 mins
The Gunman is on digital platforms from 13 July 2015 and on Blu-ray and DVD from 20th July 2015, courtesy of Studiocanal.
Take a gander at this fight scene from the film below with Sean Penn in all his glory.