Lack of Cohesiveness, Intrigue Stymies ‘The Gunman’

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Average: 3 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – If you’re going to see a Sean Penn action movie, I guess “The Gunman” would be appropriate. As he and the filmmakers inject some reality in the usual motivations, the puzzle pieces don’t connect well and in the end are not that interesting. That is not to say that the film is bad.

Sporting a body that he doesn’t mind exposing as shirtless while in his fiftysomething status, Penn is a thinking man’s action hero, part assassin and part humanitarian. It’s rather interesting that he kills someone Lee Harvey Oswald style, but after that the story devolves into a vague revenge on that hit, seemingly seven years later, yet with the same ripples over Sean’s muscly form. There are some good moments, including a booby trap that needs to be reactivated, but overall the movie almost dares you not to care, and the female lead follows suit.

Terrier (Sean Penn) is on a security team in the Congo in Africa. He loves a humanitarian doctor named Annie (Jasmine Trinca), and has a loyal colleague in Felix (Javier Bardem). The only rub is that Felix also loves Annie. When it is revealed that the “security team” is also a group of assassins, the hit is ordered for the Minister of Natural Resources. The gunman who pulls the trigger must leave Africa forever, with no contact with anyone.

Sean Penn
Man of Action: Terrier (Sean Penn) in ‘The Gunman’
Photo credit: Open Road Films

Seven years later, Terrier is back in Africa, but this time giving humanitarian aid. While he drills a water source, he is attacked by a gang of killers. He goes on the run to London, and finds out from a fellow covert operator named Stanley (Ray Winstone) that the word on the street is that he will pay for his Congolian transgression. After seeking solace from a former team member (Mark Rylance), he flees to Barcelona, where Felix and Annie are married, and a curious federal agent (Idris Elba) needs his help.

I mean that’s not too bad as a description for a story, but it’s done a bit clunky, and doesn’t mesh properly, while throwing in a medical shell shock condition for Terrier. He’s like Rick from Casablanca apparently, having always been in some conflict or another before his assassination act in the Congo. Most interesting is his buff body (am I talking about this too much?), it has that I-know-Sly-Stallone’s-steroid-dealer look.

The female lead is underwritten, quite thankless, and not handled particularly well by Italian actress Jasmine Trinca. Her reactions to some formidable gun play is to scream a lot, then settle down to trust Terrier once again, seven years after he disappeared from her life. And in one of the most amazing dances of camera work from director – and former cinematographer – Pierre Morel (“Taken”), Trinca has several nude scenes where she never appears nude. It’s almost historic.

The rest of the supporting characters are important, until they are not. Ray Winstone, getting up there in years, was a stretch as a tough guy operative. Idris Elba is underutilized, and can’t even generate a little mystery when he meets Terrier in Barcelona. Mark Rylance is crazy duplicitous as a former colleague, and comes down onto a dark side that is a bit too dark.

Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca
Penn on the Run: Terrier and Annie (Jasmine Trinca) in ‘The Gunman’
Photo credit: Open Road Films

Another weird angle of the picture is the extreme violence. Penn’s Terrier fights like Bruce Lee meets Quentin Tarantino, and miraculously is able to do it while dealing with his shell shock. The assassination itself is a “highlight,” just because of its extreme nature and similarities to the JFK street whacking. The exotic locales become vital, until they are not. Africa, except for the assassination, seemed almost unnecessary, and is tacked into a muddled conclusion.

One of the benefits of Sean Penn pitching the movie, has been his various appearances on chat shows. He really is a cool dude, and makes a strange decision to do action after a certain age, with his high reputation film career. It worked for Liam Neeson, but the jury is out for Penn. Aloha, Mr. Hand.

”The Gunman” opens everywhere on March 20th. Featuring Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Jasmine Trinca and Mark Rylance. Screenplay adapted by Don MacPherson. Directed by Pierre Morel. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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