The Gunman had so much potential. With a cast list that contains Sean Penn, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem and Idris Elba and with the man behind the camera being Pierre Morrel, the director of Liam Neeson’s (possible) masterpiece Taken, it would seem that The Gunman has all that it needs to be a fantastic action flick. Think again.
The Gunman is about James Terrier (played by Penn), a mercenary working in the Congo, protecting aid workers when he gets an assignment to kill a senior politician. After a successful kill, Terrier is forced “into the wind” leaving behind the girl he loves, until he is attacked by a hit squad himself years later.
Just a quick question before the bulk of the review, what is it with the recent trend of “Dad Cinema”? The type of film that has a retired older gentleman beating seven shades out an assortment of bad guys, proving he’s “still got it”? I wouldn’t have known there is a market for this type of film, but somehow these films keep getting made. But while Neeson and Washington, two of the bigger names to come out of “Dad Cinema” actually dish out swift and brutal punishment, Sean Penn just can’t deliver. He definitely looks the part, as most of the film Penn is shirtless, showing off his stone-chiselled abs and pectorals, but the camera cuts away just before we see any impact from punches, leaving us with a comedy thwack sound effect. It was almost as bad as Quantum Of Solace, and any film that reminds me of Quantum Of Solace is doing something wrong.
Penn does however deliver his character with some much needed humanity to the role, looking genuinely like a man who is haunted by the demons of his past, culminating in some post concussive syndrome flashbacks. He’s a character whose altercations with foes leave him worse for wear; he’s not being able to just take punches and bullets like most of the other actors of “Dad Cinema”, which makes him a much more interesting character. Unfortunately Penn seems to be the only one who plays his role seriously, with all the other actors are floundering. Javier Bardem is especially off his game, acting like a third rate Bond villain, as well as Mark Rylance, who looks cartoonish in his actions next to Penn. Idris Elba is thankfully much more grounded, but his time on screen doesn’t add up to more than three minutes, leaving Penn once again to try and keep the film realistic. But even those PCS flashbacks that gave Penn some character soon turn into a gimmick, happening right at crucial moments in the film to ramp up the tension.
The film also fails in bringing us any visual flair or stunning scenery as its main selling point either. While the film may start in the Congo and move quickly to London, the main part of the film is spent in Barcelona and Gibraltar, but The Gunman decides to just devote it’s time to alleys and backstreets, not showing off the cities that it’s set in. Even the film’s finale, set in a bull ring and stadium, feels weak and empty. The only set that feels worthy is a stunning Spanish estate owned by Javier Bardem, but due to the action scene that then takes part in said estate, we hardly get to see any of it.
The problem with The Gunman is that it has no idea what type of thriller it wants to be. Without the aforementioned gritty violence it isn’t a pulpy action film, and even though it mentions ideas such as political corruption and morality they are soon dropped, meaning it doesn’t have enough weight to make it a cerebral thriller. It’s just bland, and that is one of the worst mistakes a film can make.
Score: 3/10 With a cast list so noteworthy, it’s a shame this film is so forgettable.