Movie review: ‘The Gunman’ misses the target
* Embargoed for Friday release.
There have been a couple of taut, exciting films from French director Pierre Morel: the Parkour-filled “District B-13” and the first of the Liam Neeson “Taken” series. Those words “taut” and “exciting” won’t be a part of any discussions about his newest. In “The Gunman,” very loosely based on the Jean-Patrick Manchette novel “The Prone Gunman,” Sean Penn plays Jim, a private security contractor based in the trouble-plagued Congo in 2006, there to protect humanitarian groups, and people like Annie (Jasmine Trinca), the beautiful doctor that Jim happens to be sleeping with.
There’s also Felix (Javier Bardem), a fellow who sets up all kinds of meetings for the humanitarian people and the security people. It’s hard to tell exactly what he does, but he never hides the fact that he also has an amorous eye on Annie. It’s also hard to tell exactly what Jim is doing there. He has a team of men, he’s heavily armed and he has a long gun set up in his hotel room, where he’s waiting for an order to take out a moving target. Who is giving that order? Why does he blow away the Congo’s Minister of Minerals? Who’s good and who’s bad?
But before any questions can be answered, the words “eight years later” spill out across the screen.
Jim is still in the Congo, working with a humanitarian group, getting clean water to the locals. But bad guys with guns and machetes suddenly come looking for “the white man,” and they obviously aren’t there for some afternoon tea. But remember, Jim knows how to use a gun. It’s revealed that he’s former special ops. He takes out the bad guys and gets away.
But what appears to be the beginning of an intriguing (and taut and exciting) story soon loses its luster. Jim looks tired, as he should, since he’s a guy who’s trying to escape his violent past but keeps seeing it come after him. That would be fine if not for the fact that the film plays out in almost as tried a manner as Jim’s situation. The pacing plods where it should soar.
He makes his way to London, where an old friend has no idea why anyone would be looking for Jim, but suggests that maybe their mutual pal Felix, who is in Barcelona, would know. But before Jim can board a Spain-bound plane, he starts seeing double, he gets dizzy, he suffers from some headaches, he goes to a doctor. “Hmmm, it looks like you’ve got incurable, untreatable post-concussion syndrome,” says the doctor. “Take these pills for your headaches, and try to stay away from stress.”
That story gimmick in place, Jim gets to Barcelona, finds Felix, who’s living the good life, then finds that Felix is now married to Annie who, to this day, has wondered why Jim just up and left her without a goodbye all those years ago.
So what have we got here? Bad guys are trying to kill Jim; no one can tell him why; the love of his life is married to the guy who was once his rival for her. Sorry, this just isn’t a good place or situation for someone with stress issues.
No worries. Even though Jim and Felix have a tussle about the past (and their “project” in the Congo), and Jim and Annie have a secret tumble beneath the sheets, and hoards of bad guys with guns come calling, and Jim and Annie make a daring escape, the stress issues have up and vanished. The script seems to have forgotten about them.
No, wait ... he tells blissfully ignorant Annie about what really went on in the Congo, he’s chatted up by a helpful Interpol agent (Idris Elba, who has second billing in the film but is onscreen for about five minutes), and his condition returns, presented in ’70s cinema-style, with blurred images and muffled words as seen and heard from Jim’s point of view.
It’s a gimmick that’s not needed and that never rings true. But you can’t worry about that because adversaries are closing in on all sides, and it looks like there’s going to be just enough time to move things over to the bull ring. Hey, we’re in Barcelona, let’s do some clichéd drama in a bull ring. This is a generic thriller that puts its protagonist through some tough paces, introduces and knocks off character after character, then floats away on an unearned ending that will soon be forgotten. Honest to goodness, I saw the film yesterday and I don’t remember how it ended. Must be all that stress.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Don MacPherson and Pete Travis; directed by Pierre Morel
With Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba