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The Gunman (Sean Penn) - Review

The Gunman

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

TO all intents and purposes, The Gunman is Sean Penn’s attempt at doing a Liam Neeson in Taken. But while highly watchable, it’s also frustratingly hit-and-miss.

On the plus side, it boasts a high calibre cast who all work hard to elevate the material as well as a director in Pierre Morel (of original Taken fame) who knows how to deliver a decent action scene.

But on the downside, The Gunman struggles to convincingly combine the Friday night thrills of an action thriller with relevant political commentary and even romance. It wants to be Taken mixed with Bourne while evoking the spirit of those complex ’70s conspiracy thrillers and the tried and tested redemption in love formula.

Penn, who co-wrote the script, plays former Special Forces turned private contractor Jim Terrier, whose early assassination of a mining minister in the Congo plunges the country deeper into civil war and is accomplished at the expense of his romance with UN doctor Annie (Jasmine Trinca).

Years later, Jim is attempting to atone for past sins by digging wells in the Congo only to find himself the target of an assassination attempt. But which of his old brothers in arms has given the order? Is it Mark Rylance’s company man, or Javier Bardem’s Felix (who is now living with Jim’s ex)?

Taken at face value, The Gunman would seem to offer all the right ingredients for a top notch thriller, especially in light of its cast (which further extends beyond Penn, Rylance and Bardem to Ray Winstone and Idris Elba).

But while all put in decent work, many feel short-changed by a script that doesn’t really seem to know where its strengths lie and which should have kept its secrets a lot more tightly wrapped.

Hence, Bardem, Rylance and Elba feel particularly letdown, as is Trinca’s love interest whose performance deserves much, much better.

Perhaps the main failing lies with Penn, whose behind-the-scenes involvement was extensive (he also produces) and whose on-screen posturing (you may lose count of the times he appears shirtless) lends proceedings the whiff of a vanity project.

The decision to saddle Terrier with a debilitating health condition also feels like an unnecessary touch, especially as they seem to use the device more when it suits rather than in any coherent kind of way. It all goes to the strain on credibility that dogs proceedings.

Fortunately, Morel does manage to inject enough excitement into the action sequences to ensure The Gunman delivers on the bare minimum requirements, while also making good use of some eye-catching European and African locations.

The Gunman is therefore never less than watchable but it could – and should – have been so much more.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 115mins
UK Release Date: March 20, 2015