The Gunman (15) Close-Up Film Review

The Gunman


Dir. Pierre Morel, US, 2015, 115 mins

Cast: Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance

Having earned three 3 best Actor Academy Award nominations and won two Best Actor Oscars (for Milk and Mystic River) what’s left for Sean Penn to prove?

Not a lot, one would think.

But here, directed at a usefully rapid pace but not much else of not by Pierre Morel who transformed Liam Neeson into an international action star in Taken, Penn (who also takes a co-writing and producer credit and therefore had no-one else he can really blame) misses the mark.

I imagine the chances of seeing The Gunman 2 are less than minimal.

The cliché-packed screenplay, co-written with Don MacPherson and Pete Travis, from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman, opens with Penn in po-faced Freetrade mode protecting mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a security guard.

He is also a hitman for hire, something he keeps hidden from his doctor lover Jasmine Trinca.  But, after shooting the Congo’s Minister of Mining on the instructions of his assassin-for-hire colleague Javier Bardem, Penn is forced to flee without telling Trinca…

Several years pass (at least is seemed that way to me) and Penn is back in Darkest Africa only to be attacked, presumably for some past transgression.  Having (I assume) read the script he heads back to Europe where – relying as much on lovingly photographed locations as on the story, he sets out to find out who wants him dead and fix them.

The plot is even less plausible than the average election manifesto.  Penn starts off in London where he reunites with Ray Winstone doing his regulation foul-mouthed Cockney rogue, spurting out so many four-letter words that I reckon The Gunman is a shoo-in for Channel 4 TV.

Then it’s off to Spain to confront Bardem who is now married to Trinca, continuing a tsunami of adrenaline-high, intellect-low action that takes alligator-necked Penn to Gibraltar and Barcelona and a batty bullfighting climax that sagely sums up the glossy drivel on display – The Gunman is simply a load of Bull.

Penn’s performance is strenuous to the point of exhausting. He’s a buff worked-out hero (although his neck sadly resembles an alligator’s) and he does everything a buff worked-out hero should do – slugging people with fists and spades, shooting ad lib and showing bulls who’s the boss – without ever really coming close to creating a credible character. But, to give him his due, he makes 007 and loads of other celluloid superheroes resemble a pack of pasty social workers.

Mark Rylance passes through the mindless proceedings without really registering, fortunate Idris Elba got a free trip to Gibraltar, Trinca is lovely while Bardem’s awful performance would be near impossible to parody since he has already done that himself and very well too.

Morel deserves some measure of merit for telling his tall tale fast and fatuously and Flavio Labiano’s cinematography is a major asset. 

If you’re desperate for a riotous ride signifying very little, this just about fits the bill.

But remember – switch off your intellect.

Review by Alan Frank

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