Sean Penn is now a candidate for any future ‘Expendables’ film with the release of ‘The Gunman’. The new action thriller, directed by Pierre Morel (Taken, District 13) stars Penn as Jim Terrier, an ex-solder/mercenary who is assigned the shady task of assassinating the Mining Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After completing his mission Terrier must go into hiding leaving behind his team and loved ones. Years later his past actions come back to haunt him as he becomes a target himself, and discovers the team who worked on the assassination are being taken out by a mystery party.
There are currently two notable increasing trends in modern action films, the ageing action star sub-genre and French/European produced and directed films. ‘The Gunman’ is a proponent of both these trends. Despite being part of these upward trends, the first film from Pierre Morel since the underrated ‘From Paris With Love’ is quite a bump in the road.
You know when you have Sean Penn in a film he will always give it his all, provide a performance worthy or better than the film he is starring in. To have him in what is being sold as quite the action film is quite the coup. The supporting cast are no different, as it has an absolutely stellar line-up worthy of a Bond film. With Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance & Idris Elba around we are treated to solid performances throughout, even if they are only fleeting appearances.
To be honest though, if the cast had contained lesser talent ‘The Gunman’ could have easily been a VOD release. Part of the issue is the marketing of the film itself (no fault of the film makers), being sold as a straight up action film, which it most certainly is not, will affect its perception by the public and those reviewing it. The other issue with ‘The Gunman’ is a combination of its story and pacing.
For what is a very simple premise, the film continually drags its heels through the mud slowing down the pace of what could be a fairy exciting film. The most significant cause of this is the wholly unnecessary relationship between Sean Penn & Jasmine Trinca. One of the first things Penn does after flying to Spain to find out who tried to kill him, is to follow his former lover around the city. I am no highly trained soldier but I am pretty sure that is not what I’d be doing. Remove this type of scene and you will have a more thoroughly exciting, sleeker film.
I understand that things like this provide more character development and the opportunity to flesh a film out but ‘The Gunman’ just doesn’t need it. There are minor character angles that gravitate around this relationship which give cause and effect to actions, but in the grand scheme of things they are irrelevant, and are not focused on enough for being a part of the film. ‘The Gunman’ is very much a multi-genre film, the genres just haven’t been blended well enough to keep things smooth.
The better segments of the film, are the ones that flow well, when we leave behind the unnecessary relationship and get stuck into the action and conspiracy. As ‘District 13’ & ‘Taken’ have demonstrated Pierre Morel is great at action, and ‘The Gunman’ is no different with brutal, close quarters fights and chases. The investigatory sections during action downtime are also interesting and well done. Throw in that Penn’s character is also suffering from CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) from repeated exposure to blasts and punches to the face, it keeps things moving along. The use of CTE in the film also provides another reason why the relationship is unnecessary, Penn’s character now has two hurdles that he has to deal with that slow him down from reaching his goal. Realistically in a film such as thing you only need the one, and as CTE has never been used in this capacity before it makes it a much more refreshing choice than generic love interest.
Overall ‘The Gunman’ has some fine moments, thanks to the acting from the entire cast and the well crafted action scenes. Unfortunately the love interest in the film keeps you waiting unnecessarily to get to a predictable ending. For those wanting a couple of hours in dreamland with lots of explosions and bullets you will be disappointed, but beneath the love story part of the film lies a reasonably interesting action thriller with good action.