Review: THE GUNMAN (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Review: THE GUNMAN (2015)

Despite some decent action sequences, THE GUNMAN is a hollow and wearisome slog with Sean Penn appearing too tired as a middle-aged action hero.

After the currently 62-year-old Liam Neeson enjoying a varying degree of success playing an unlikely middle-aged action hero beginning with TAKEN in 2008, it's just a matter of time before another unlikely actor attempts to follow the same footsteps as well. That unlikely actor in question is two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn (2003's MYSTIC RIVER, 2008's MILK) playing his first action-oriented role in THE GUNMAN. On paper, it looks interesting enough, especially with original TAKEN director Pierre Morel on the helm. The movie also has a potentially strong mix of international cast including Javier Bardem, Jasmine Trinca, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba. Unfortunately, the execution that presented on the screen fails to live up its mark.


THE GUNMAN opens in a 2006-set prologue in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where Jim Terrier, an ex-special forces operative tasked to assassinate the country's minister of mining. Shortly after, he is forced to flee the country as well as leaving his doctor girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca) under the care of his fellow associate, Felix (Javier Bardem).

Eight years later, Terrier resurfaced in DRC and now working for an NGO digging wells. But after a group of people tries to kill him, he knows that his murky past came to haunt him all over again. Soon, he flies to London and meet his former point man Cox (Mark Rylance), who is now a sharply-dressed businessman to talk about his recent incident in DRC. Terrier's investigation leads him to Felix, who also became a businessman and even married to Annie.


Best known for his work in the first TAKEN, director Pierre Morel knows a lot about pulling off a couple of well-staged action sequences that doesn't skimp away from brutal violence. The movie is also blessed with scenic backdrops including South Africa, Spain and England shot by cinematographer Flavio Labiano. Marco Beltrami's score is suitably intense enough to fit for this kind of globe-trotting action genre.
With washboard abs and well-toned physique, Sean Penn looks physically impressive for a 54-year-old actor. In fact, he even looks convincing during some of the hand-to-hand combat sequences as well as handling guns like a seasoned pro. In her first English-language debut, acclaimed Italian actress Jasmine Trinca looks fine and radiant as Penn's love interest.

The least standout action sequence here is the brutal knife fight between Terrier and his nemesis, Reiniger (Peter Franzén) during the climactic finale.

Despite his impressive physical appearance and stunt work, Sean Penn's normally-competent acting prowess fails to make Jim Terrier as a standout character. Problem is, he spends most of the time looking bored and dour. Another glaring problem that really bugs me a lot is Penn's character suffering a severe brain trauma. Instead of making him worth sympathised for, his so-called traumatically sick character is more of an excuse as an additional plot device.

In the meantime, the supporting cast is sadly underutilised with great actors like Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba all displayed forgettable performances.

While Pierre Morel is good in the action department, he certainly looks out of his league when he requires to do more than just a straightforward genre thriller.

But worst of all came from the bloated screenplay credited to Don MacPherson, Pete Travis and Sean Penn himself. It was a muddled mess that tries to be everything at once. At first, the movie wants to be a political thriller, but there isn't much social commentary worth debating for. The movie also tries to be a romantic drama, which involves a love triangle between Terrier, Annie and Felix. But the love story is disappointingly lifeless and lacking of emotional urgency. As an action movie, it feels generic at best and those who are expecting another TAKEN-level of kinetic excitement will mostly leave the cinema disappointed. On top of that, the movie feels draggy, especially during the long-winded middle section desperately in need of heavy trimming. Seriously, this is the kind of movie where a character spends a lengthy amount of time going through expository dialogue between the action moments.


No wonder THE GUNMAN fails to ignite the North American box office when it bombed at No. 4 last week with a measly US$5.02 million in the first three days. It's a wasted opportunity that could have jumpstart Penn's revitalised career as the new middle-aged action hero. Sadly, that honour still rest firmly on the shoulders of Liam Neeson.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC press screening *

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