Movie review: ‘The Gunman’ |

Movie review: ‘The Gunman’

Sean Penn appears in a scene from "The Gunman."
AP | Open Road Films


* * (C)

Directed By Pierre Morel

Starring Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone

Rated R, Action, 115 minutes

Sean Penn portrays a remorseful assassin in “The Gunman,” a film adapted from the “The Prone Gunman,” a novel by the late Jean-Patrick Manchette.

Intended to show Westerners the folly of interfering in the politics of developing nations, many of the film’s pivotal scenes are set in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, its trite lectures weigh heavily on the plot.

As the film opens we see Jim Terrier (Penn), mercenary for hire, with his colleagues conspiring to assassinate a government minister whose policies threaten to diminish the profits of multinational mining corporations. Terrier’s cover is a job protecting a group of humanitarian aid workers, including the delicate and beautiful Annie (Jasmine Trinca), who looks young enough to be Jim’s daughter but with whom he carries on a romance.

In charge of their covert missions, Felix (Javier Bardem) is also smitten with Annie and uses their current operation as a pretext to separate Annie from her beloved Jim. Assigned to pull the trigger, Jim is obliged to high tail it out of the Congo after firing the fatal shot, with neither an explanation nor a goodbye to Annie.

Eight years later he has returned to the Congo, where, as a penance for past wrongs, Jim is now a humanitarian aid worker. That is, until a band of machete-wielding killers come looking for Jim. Narrowly escaping with his life and certain the scheme has something to do with his earlier fateful operation, Jim flies to London, home base for several of his old associates, to begin an investigation into the attempt on his life.

Looking worn and older than his 54 years, Penn’s newly large biceps bring little to his characterization, one that lacks oomph and emotional energy. If not for his regrets about his past deeds and love for Annie Jim would care for nothing and no one. She is now married to Felix, who protected her after Jim disappeared, but who is now a wealthy Barcelona businessman who treats her shabbily. Naturally this plot positions Jim as Annie’s savior and requires that she instantly forgive his earlier transgressions, even though killing the minister was diametrically opposed to Annie’s work and beliefs.

The more interesting conflicts are reserved for Jim and his past associates. While two of them died under suspicious circumstances, two of the survivors now wear business suits indicating they’ve gone over to the corporate dark side. Only Stanley (Ray Winstone) remains an old school, independent operative. After a bit of soul searching, he decides to provide backup for Jim’s efforts to uncover the conspiracy behind the deaths of their friends.

Though the straight-forward plot is burdened by a host of cliches, director Pierre Morel, who directed Liam Neeson in “Taken,” has a feeling for pacing and an eye for choreographing action sequences that prevent the film from becoming tedious. We aren’t bored, but neither are we satisfied. Given a better script, Penn and the rest of this excellent cast could have delivered so much more.

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