The Gunman is kind of shit

Sean Penn fails to reinvent himself as an action hero in this bloated turd.

The Gunman
Sean Penn in The Gunman
“I don’t want to do this shit anymore,” says a dizzy, sweaty, bloodied Sean Penn after he smacks a woman in the head and pushes his enemy down some stairs behind an amusement park in The Gunman.

The latest action vehicle by Pierre Morel (Taken, Transporter) is hard to characterize. Starring Penn as Jim Terrier, a sniper on a secret assassination team in the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gunman tries to be two things at once: a commentary on capitalism and a blood-pumping action movie with romantic underpinnings. Unfortunately, it succeeds at neither.

Initially sent to the Congo to protect various non-governmental organizations, Terrier’s second job is as a sniper on a team that provides ammunition to the rebels. When he is designated to shoot the Minister of Mining, he is forced into hiding. Lest we forget, he leaves his woman (Jasmine Trinca) behind, never revealing to her his true occupation. Terrier presumably sets camp in London, but eight years after the shooting, he returns to the Congo to work for another charitable organization. One day, he’s attacked by a hit squad, which leads him to suspect that he has been betrayed.

There are only two men who could have done it: Cox (Mark Rylance) or Felix (Javier Bardem). In earlier scenes, we see Felix lusting after Terrier’s girlfriend Annie, so when he promises to look after her when Terrier goes into hiding, we become quite suspicious that he might have had ulterior motives for betraying his friend.

The Gunman is full of plot-holes and clichés. Morel should have focused more on making the movie all-killer instead of trying desperately to give it any meaningful filler.  Penn is less than charismatic as the film’s hero, and the one thing we remember most about his performance is how huge and scary his veiny biceps are. The violence is gratuitous but lacking in any style, and even the car chase scenes provide no excitement.

The film’s sole entertainment value comes from the banter between Bardem and Penn when they are fighting over Annie – “fucking and killing, that’s what you’re good at,” a drunk and distraught Felix tells Terrier. Even the romance in the film is unbelievable and the role of Annie is nothing more than a damsel in distress, clinging to whichever man seems stronger and more capable of saving her.

With a star-studded cast that also includes Idris Elba (as an Interpol agent with less than five minutes of screen time), it is quite shocking that such a pool of talent would be wasted on such substandard material. Audiences who are looking for a lot of action will find the movie boring, and those seeking a politically charged thriller will find more meaning in Die Hard than The Gunman’s half-hearted critique of capitalism. Indeed, we don’t “want to do this shit anymore” either. ■
The Gunman opens in theatres today, Friday, March 20. Watch the trailer here: