Anton Capital Entertainment/Canal+/Silver Pictures/TF1 Films Production/Open Road Films
Directed by Pierre Morel
Produced by Adrian Guerra/Sean Penn/Peter McAleese/Andrew Rona/Joel Silver
Screenplay by Don Macpherson/Pete Travis/Sean Penn
Based on the novel “The Prone Gunman” by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Just going by the trailers I saw for THE GUNMAN I figured that Sean Penn was throwing himself into the same pool that Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and their ilk are already swimming in: becoming a credible and legitimate Action Movie Hero even being over the age of 50. And actually, being over 50 works for Sean Penn in this role as he’s now got a face that looks lived in. It’s the face of a man who’s experienced life.
Now to be fair, Sean Penn was never any rival to Rob Lowe or Keanu Reeves in the looks department even when he was younger. But one thing I like about the Over 50 Action Movie Hero is that these guys look like Men and not like little pretty boys playing Tough Guy. Sean Penn could have a career in Action Movies just going on physicality alone. Seriously, the cat has been doing some working out. In the theater I saw THE GUNMAN in, I heard quite a few gasps from the ladies during scenes where Sean Penn had his shirt off. His musculature is quite impressive. Such a shame that the movie itself isn’t as impressive. Halfway through the movie I also heard quite a few snores. Liam Neeson’s got nothing to worry about. If THE GUNMAN is the best Sean Penn can come up with then he needs to rethink this whole Action Movie thing.
Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a member of a covert black ops team of military contractors working in The Congo. They’re undercover, waiting for their opportunity to assassinate a high level minister who is standing in the way of a major western corporation lusting after The Congo’s mineral wealth they wish to exploit. It’s Jim who actually pulls the trigger on the minister and is forced to flee, leaving behind his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) to seek comfort in the arms of Jim’s friend Felix (Javier Bardem) who plays his role so broadly he does everything but wear a billboard saying: “You Will Curse Me For My Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal”
Years later, Jim is working as a volunteer in a African village and seems to have put his violent past behind him. Not. A hit team comes to take Jim out and instead gets took. Jim connects the dots based on things the members of the hit team said and their equipment and deduces that somebody wants him dead for the assassination he did. But who? Is it Felix who is now married to Annie and doesn’t appreciate Jim coming back to break up his happy home? Is it Cox (Mark Rylance) another member of the team who is now the CEO of his own international military contracting corporation? Whose side is Interpol agent Barnes (Idris Elba) on? Jim bounces from London to Barcelona and back, trusting only in the assistance of his former mentor Stanley (Ray Winstone) to help him figure out who’s trying to kill him and why.
Sounds like exciting stuff, don’t it? And somewhere in THE GUNMAN there is a solid, pulpy action thriller. Unfortunately director Pierre Morel forgot the action and instead we get long stretches of dialog between Penn and the other members of the cast as they debate the morality of privatized military corporations, international politics, the raping of Third World resources by the U.S. and half a dozen other weighty subjects that are certainly relevant and need to be discussed. But not in a movie that bills itself as an action thriller and was directed by Pierre Morel, the man who directed the first “Taken” and “District B13” one of the best and most high octane Action Movies ever made.
Sean Penn is certainly game and his (few) fight scenes and gunfights show that he’s got the chops for this kind of stuff. But the painfully slow pace of the movie and the overcooking of the plot works against him. Sean Penn’s acting certainly isn’t at fault here. Like Liam Neeson, he actually can act and that gives an Action Movie of this sort more gravitas than it actually needs. But Neeson knows how to make that work for him and Penn hasn’t mastered that yet. THE GUNMAN could have done with less with speeches about corporate imperialism and the destabilization of the Congo and more with a goofy dose of pure adrenaline. Wait for this one to show up on Netflix.