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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews The Gunman

March 19th, 2015 by Matt Gault Comments


The Gunman (15)
Running time: 115 min
Directed by: Pierre Morel
Starring: Sean Penn, Idris Elba & Jasmine Trinca

Sean Penn’s The Gunman is an action movie which, despite its impressive cast, can only be regarded as another forgettable Taken-esque thriller which fails to excite or entertain. Incidentally, The Gunman is directed by the same man who brought us that ass-kicking Neeson romp – Pierre Morel – but the French filmmaker fails to recreate Taken’s action-soaked brilliance with Sean Penn in this routinely tedious thriller.

The film follows Jim Terrier (Penn), a former international operative, specialising in high-profile assassinations, who is winding down his retirement years in the Democratic Republic of Congo after one last kill. However, his life is suddenly thrust back into a dangerous world of terrorism, dark secrets and paranoia when three men attempt to murder him. Taking the attempted hit as his past coming back to haunt him, Terrier goes into hiding once more, trying to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend Annie (played with a frightening lack of subtlety by Jasmine Trinca) and demanding answers from an old colleague named Felix (Javier Bardem).

However, when Felix proves less than willing to co-operate, Terrier launches himself into a solo mission as he attempts to pick apart the conspiracy that dates back to his time as a trained killer and which almost cost him his life. With the usual quick-edit gusto and escalating kill-count, Terrier blasts his way through the film as a wrinkling, yet devastatingly effective, wrecking ball, determined to indefinitely exorcise some pretty size-able demons.

With patience and concentration, you may be able to see a two-time Oscar winner underneath Penn’s freakishly buff exterior. His vein-popping arms only remind us of the faltering genre of the over-50s action hero and Penn fails to convince in a role that drowns his credibility. Taken was seven years ago now and it has become clear that Hollywood’s attempt to relive that mega-hit is doomed to failure. Gunman doesn’t do it any favours.

Penn, who rarely missteps in a career that has brought us a spellbinding role in Mystic River, a remarkable tour-de-force in Milk and forays into directing that have even threatened to exceed his achievements on camera- Into the Wild and The Pledge are both excellent – bulked up considerably for the role but left the script decidedly lightweight. Gunman, co-written and produced by its leading man, screams of a philanthropic vanity project for Penn but he is not helped by the astonishing waste of acting talent on show.

Bardem, who is beginning to recklessly fritter away all credibility with his alarmingly OTT performances, is laughable opposite Penn. His alcohol-soaked, scenery-chewing dialogue made half of the cinema wince and squirm in their seats in discomfort as they longed to see the that gripping psychopath from No Country For Old Men. Somewhat impressively, he is comfortably surpassed in the amateurish acting category by Mark Rylance (widely regarded as one of the finest theatre actors of his generation). Rylance recently revealed that one of his important scenes was dropped for the final cut but it is tough to imagine that his unconvincing turn as Terrence Cox, the film’s main antagonist, would have been saved if not for questionable editing.

The film has all the usual ingredients essential to raise the pulse – seismic explosions, relentless fist fighting and as much muscle as The Expendables – but it fails spectacularly to bring it all together into a coherent and thrilling ride. With Penn overshadowing the set-pieces with two bazukas hanging from his shoulders, it is a case of tolerating The Gunman right up until its disappointing Bullfight finale. This is a total write-off for Penn; he is no Liam Neeson and he should take the wave of criticism this film is attracting as motivation to return to more compelling and credible roles.


1 out of 5 nerds

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Matt Gault is a sports writer and film fanatic. He is a fully-qualified journalist and has worked for BBCNI, Sunday Life and has been published on The Guardian's website. He interns at REDNI, sub-editing for the Belfast Telegraph. He studied at Queen's University pretending to like history and literature and then University of Ulster Coleraine, where he slacked off enormously for a year and somehow got away with it. He also enjoys Captain Morgans, The Sopranos, Led Zeppelin and Hunter S. Thompson which makes him a remarkably uninteresting person.

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