The trailer for The Gunman alone draws comparison to the likes of the Bourne series as well as recent ‘old guy’ action movies that have starred the likes of Liam Neeson and Sylvester Stallone (Another Expendables movie, anyone?). This time, we get two-time Oscar-winner Sean Penn take up the role of leading hero, continuing the now tried and proven formula of using older actors who can still throw a punch to kick the bad guy’s ass.”
Penn plays Jim Terrier, a sniper on a secret mercenary assassination team who is forced into hiding after taking out the minister of mines of the Congo. Jim returns to the Congo eight years later to work for a NGO but is attacked. Realizing that someone is out to kill him, Jim goes on the run across Europe and contacts members of his old assassination team in an effort to find out who wants to kill him and why.
This is not the role we are used to seeing Penn in. His previous roles include real-life politician Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay person to be elected to public office in California, Jimmy Markum, a police detective who is distraught when his daughter is murdered, and Cheyenne, a make-up wearing retired rock star searching for meaning in his life. Still, if this diversity of roles has proven one thing, it is that Sean Penn can play most anything and, as has come to be expected of the actor, he carries the weight of this film on his back with sufficient intensity to make the film is a thrill to watch.
The only disadvantage with having such a flawless actor in the leading role is that other actors get pushed to the side lines. Javier Bardem plays a colleague of Jim’s and is up to his usual menacing antics, while Idris Elba is a representative of a mysterious corporation. Both are talented actors, Bardem known for his roles in Skyfall and No Country for Old Men, while Elba is best-known as the star of Luther, but they are criminally underused as the focus is firmly on Penn’s character. Elba in particular has very little screen time in spite of receiving second billing in much of the promotion for the film.
As for what is offered by The Gunman by means of contributing to the action movie genre, we have pretty much seen it all before. The film tries to resonate politically with its references to war, poverty, mineral extraction and corruption in the Congo, but it’s a pretty typical action thriller, centred on a narrative of trauma. You have the guys coming out of retirement for ‘one last job’, the lead taking his top off to show his muscular physique a number of times, the attractive love interest, deceptive friendships, big action set-pieces involving gunfire, fist fighting, car chases and explosions in scenic locations, and of course the mystery of who is trying to kill our hero and why. Throw in a bit of a morality crisis and you’ve got yourself a film that you’ll be thinking about for maybe a few minutes once you’ve left the cinema.
Though it is helmed by the director of the latter, namely Pierre Morel, The Gunman is more akin to Rambo than Taken. Thus, the film should find an audience with those nostalgic for older action movies centred on a mentally tortured protagonist. At the same time, with its references to corruption in the Congo, one feels that an opportunity was lost to do something deeper with the film.