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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Gunman, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Dour action, but still fine work."
4 stars

About a year ago, when it was Kevin Costner's turn, I commented that it seemed like the agents of every actor in his fifties were going to the guys who made "Taken" and saying that they would like a slick action movie that played to their clients' strengths as well. The latest is Sean Penn, and it's not more than half a joke to say that since his strengths run more toward activist guilt than personal charm, "The Gunman" being more murky penance than rescue fantasy is little surprise. As such, it's less commercial than some of its analogs, but an efficient little thriller nonetheless.

It's not quite so efficient at the start, when a long-ish prologue introduces the audience to Jim Terrier (Penn) and Felix Marti (Javier Bardem), among several private security consultants in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006, doing a bit more than looking out for the NGO-run field hospital where Jim's girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) treats an alarming number of machete wounds. Circumstances force Jim to leave, but eight years later he has returned to dig wells, only to be hunted down for his previous sins. The trail takes him to London to call in favors from old comrades Cox (Mark Rylance) and Stanley (Ray Winstone), and then to Barcelona, where he finds Felix - and Annie.

In addition to playing the lead role, Penn is one of the screenwriters adapting Jean-Patrick Manchette's novel The Prone Gunman, and they play into his reputation a bit with that fairly detailed opening that makes sure the audience understands just what sort of corruption and chaos the developing world faces rather than just saying "black ops in places you don't want to go" like many movies of this sort do. That's cool, although for story purposes it also means that it takes a while to show that Felix is an envious bastard who will act the party in the most transparent way possible. It also starts to set up another way the film will play against action-movie type by suggesting that all those times the protagonist is hit over the head or right in the middle of explosions and gunfire have a cumulative bad effect.

Not that this stops Pierre Morel from staging some fairly exciting bits of mayhem. Indeed, Jim's post-concussion syndrome makes them even more intense because the audience can feel how much he is on the clock in every action sequence; he might end up on the ground and puking or just wearing himself down to the point where any victory is pyrrhic, and thus everything must be done as quickly and decisively as possible. "Quick and decisive" was Morel's method of operation in Taken, and the action here resembles that movie far more than the hash Olivier Megaton made out of its sequels; as fast as things move, Morel gives the audience a good look throughout, whether it be at a meticulously set booby-trap or how each blow during a fistfight can do some serious damage. And while the credits acknowledge that using a bullfight as the background for the final confrontation is anachronistic (Barcelona has not hosted one since 2011), it's a fittingly de-romanticized setting, with flashier younger killers trying to take down an old bill that has already been softened up.

Between bouts of violence, Penn is as reliable as you might expect. He plays Terrier as too capable to be brooding and self-pitying for long, even making a light moment or two work early on. It's a confident performance that gives the character personality without over-emphasizing him being intimidating or distracting from his skill. Jasmine Trinca is a nice enough love interest, but it's the other dangerous men allegedly moved on from their mercenary days that are the most entertaining opposite Penn: Mark Rylance takes the decadent route, while Ray Winstone is even more entertaining as the scrapper. Javier Bardem plays it even bigger, building on what was kind of an obvious opening with a wider variety of aggressive smugness. And, sure, bring in Idris Elba for the last act.

This movie isn't going to give Sean Penn the sort of run as an action hero that Liam Neeson has had over the past few years, but I suspect he's got very little interest in that. If he's going to do one, it might as well be something like this that has some room for a bit of principle alongside its violence, and enough compromised ethics to avoid blindly waving the flag.

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originally posted: 04/07/15 11:51:54
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User Comments

8/30/15 mr.mike Better than I expected. 4 stars
3/24/15 Chris Penn is a 60-year old midget. Not convincing. 1 stars
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  20-Mar-2015 (R)
  DVD: 30-Jun-2015

  20-Mar-2015 (15)

  DVD: 30-Jun-2015

Directed by
  Pierre Morel

Written by
  Don MacPherson
  Pete Travis
  Sean Penn

  Sean Penn
  Jasmine Trinca
  Javier Bardem
  Ray Winstone
  Mark Rylance
  Idris Elba

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