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New Release Review - The Gunman

Eight years after taking part in a political assassination, a gunman finds himself targeted.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Pierre Morel

Starring: Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Jasmine Trinca



With The Gunman, Sean Penn becomes the latest aging star to follow Liam Neeson's lead in reinventing himself as an action star. In the past, our action heroes came from backgrounds outside of acting, usually skilled in some discilpine of martial arts, and they generally couldn't act their way out of a paper bag. Now we have serious and respected actors buffing themselves up to fill the vacancies left by the declining careers of the Seagals, Van Dammes and Schwarzeneggers. Penn has clearly spent an insane amount of time in the gym in preparation for this role but there's something unsettling about seeing his leathery face hover above a body that looks like it belongs to a 26 year old swimmer.
Following a montage of news clips featuring the usual faces of British cable news reporting, the movie opens in 2006 where Penn's ridiculously named Jim Terrier is in the troublespot of the Democratic Republic of Congo where he's working a security job for an NGO. He's madly in love with health worker Annie (Trinca), who his slimy boss Felix (Bardem) also has eyes on. Secretly, Terrier and Felix are members of a black ops outfit and one night the former is called upon by the latter to assassinate the country's mining minister. After performing the hit, Terrier is evacuated out of Africa and spends the next eight years moping around London before returning to the Congo to carry out some security work, of a genuine nature this time. When Terrier is attacked by machete and gun wielding thugs who seem to be targeting him specifically, he returns to London and looks up his former crew to warn them they may be in danger. As he investigates, he uncovers a far-reaching conspiracy, as the protagonists of these sort of thrillers are prone to do.
Unless you've never seen a conspiracy thriller before, you'll guess the entire plot of The Gunman by the end of its first act. Terrier however doesn't seem to cotton on to perilous situations until it's too late, consistently making a series of dumb decisions that result in him having to kill numerous faceless goons. The dialogue is often unintentionally hilarious; the highlight being a scenario that has Penn utter the lines "Annie are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay Annie?," as though his co-screenwriters had contrived to play a gag on him. Later, Elba recites a laughable coded monologue about treehouses and hammers. Bardem delivers a wonderfully over the top piece of drunk acting in one of the film's many contrived sequences. Perhaps the actor was drunk? With this script, who could blame him?
What really derails the film is the inconsistency of Terrier's character. We're constantly told he's trying to make amends for his violent past while beating seven bells out of everyone he meets. At one point, when he is forced to flee a house under attack he grabs his girlfriend but doesn't give a thought to the housemaid he met upon entering the home, who ends up being gunned down thanks to his selfishness.
With Penn co-scripting this adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette's novel The Prone Gunman, it's no surprise to find a political undercurrent running throughout the film, but the commentary on western intervention in Africa takes a back seat to a series of contrived, clich├ęd and predictable conspiracy thriller scenarios. The Gunman is a thinking man's thriller, but one without a thought in its head.




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