Hollywood has a very outdated notion that once you reach a certain age, you can only play somebody’s grandfather or grandmother. It’s a little less common for men, but still it persists. Like films about a person experiencing a sexual renaissance after 50, or a person who discovers that the relationship they have been in for decades is no longer making them happy, and decides to do something about it. Those stories have depth, feel authentic and represent an often underrepresented demographic in films. What I don’t like are films where an actor sacrifices the entire integrity of the film to try to rebrand or promote himself as something he clearly isn’t.
The Gunman follows gun for hire James (Sean Penn) on a mission in Africa. In an attempt to destabilize the area for the profit of a company, James is chosen to assassinate a minister, but must disappear after, leaving behind his decades younger love interest Annie (Jasmine Trinca) the aid worker, behind. Coincidentally, the only thing that the head of the operation, Felix (Javier Bardem), likes more than drinking is Annie. So when it came to pick the shooter, unsurprisingly it was James. Several years have passed, and James is now doing self-instituted penance aid work in Africa, until one day some mercenaries try to kill him. If they were locals trying to kill him, it would just be business as usual, but they a satellite phone! Obviously it means someone hired them to kill him.
He goes back to his commanding officer Cox, who says he doesn’t know anything. Now he must confront Felix, and his long lost love Annie, who is now Felix’s wife. With the help of an old friend, Stanley (Ray Winstone), and a possible new ally in Interpol agent Dupont (Idris Elba), he must find out who and why someone wants him dead. Maybe rekindle a relationship along the way? Probably show off your chest as often as cinematically possible. You know, the usual.
Director Pierre Morel has experience in this type of film, not just by being the cinematographer for films like Unleashed and The Transporter, but also for having directed the first Taken film. The actions scenes are expertly crafted, but too few and far between, leaving us meandering and wishing something exciting would happen in between them. It is easy to disregard such a run of the mill, conventional action story of redemption when the film itself refuses to demand any seriousness. I’m especially referring to the scene in Madrid where they are literally in a bull fight. Half an hour into the film, it is easy to recognize that the story is not important or anywhere near what they want us to be focusing on. All eye were suppose to be on Sean Penn, and not his face I might add. Taken can be considered Liam Neeson’s own renaissance and the beginning of his late in life action superstardom, which they try to recreate for Sean Penn unsuccessfully.
Aside from the predictable and ultimately useless story, the biggest violation in this “action” film is that all the sequences were greatly outnumbered by the almost pathological need this film has to show us the peak physical condition of Sean Penn. I didn’t mind that he was in love with a woman twenty years his junior, or that Idris Elba was all but wasted on this film. My problem comes into play when you undermine even the shadow of a story this film had by placing an unnecessary spotlight not on the character, but on the actor just to show off the results of a great personal trainer. It was so blaring and unsubtle that it verged on objectification.
To its detriment, The Gunman is not as shamelessly over the top as the over the hill studded Expendables franchise, and not competent enough to be even a partway decent political action-thriller. This film finds an unhappy middle area where the only things you’ll remember about it is how hard it tried to impress you with its outward appearance.
RATING: ★★(2/10 stars)