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Film Review: The Gunman

Posted on 23rd March 2015 |

Last week, we looked at Liam Neeson's "Run All Night" - this time we catch up with the latest film from his director from "Taken", Pierre Morel with the Sean Penn led "The Gunman"...

Maybe I went in to "The Gunman" with expectations of something other than what it was. It boasts a great cast (including Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone), and seemed to be a passion project for star Penn (just last week, I listened to Penn talk about how he produced it and how it was a film he felt needed to be made). It sounded like a film that would explore a potentially sensitive issue (the exploitation of emerging economies by corporations in the West) while throwing in some great action. It sounded, in short, like a film with a brain.

Instead, what I got was a bland, overlong vehicle for Sean Penn to snarl at everything in sight, trek across continents and bring misery to everyone he encounters - including the audience. He plays Jim Terrier, who when he first meet him, is working as part of a security team for an NGO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Security isn't his only service however, as he is soon tasked with assassinating a local politician - an action which requires him to leave his job and love, Annie. 8 years later, back in the DRC, a repentant Terrier is building wells for another NGO, when his compound is attacked by gunmen looking specifically for him. After deducing that this is somehow linked to the assassination from 8 years ago, Terrier sets out after his former colleagues, including a wasted (in every sense imaginable) Javier Bardem in a hunt that takes him across Europe.

Penn, an actor that I generally like, is not on great form in this film. Not particularly likeable or engaging, it's difficult to understand why the film's only female character, Annie, is so enthralled by him. The script attempts to make him more interesting, adding a subplot in which he is wrestling with both guilt, and a worsening brain condition. Yet neither really hits it's mark as in this role, he is simply unbelievable and unrelatable. His acting in "The Gunman" isn’t particularly outstanding either - his face unchanging in almost every scene, to the extent that the music seems to be explaining whatever emotion he's supposed to be conveying,

Penn's Terrier is not the only character that seems undeveloped or unlikeable. Jasmine Trinca's Annie is one of the weakest female leads in a film for some time. She serves only to be fawned over by various men and seems to be utterly incapable of helping herself. In a cinema landscape that has recently given us fantastic characters like Katniss Everdeen, Annie seems like a throwback to a time in which women in cinema were simply objects.
The posters for the film carry Idris Elba's name as second billing, yet the former "The Wire" actor barely features at all. His one scene of significance, features an odd moment in which his initials are dwelt on - one wonders if this is a nod to the rumours suggesting that the next time Elba plays a character with the initials J.B, the name might be Bond...

Sadly, the acting and characters are not the only negatives in his film. The story is riddled with plotholes and frankly nonsensical suspensions of reason. For example, Terrier might have occasionally issues with his memory, but surely making a video diary of a conspiracy to murder a politician is just a common sense no-no. Lapses like this make the film difficult to enjoy and provide another stick with which to beat it.

The one positive of the film is it's action. It is intense, brutal and will make you squirm. However, action sequences can look great, but unless the audience in invested in the story or its characters, it is meaningless, and unfortunately "The Gunman” fails to give the audience any characters worth rooting for at all. Frankly, by the end of "The Gunman", you'll be wishing that you had the same kind of memory lapses as Terrier so you could just forget the two hours that you'd just wasted.


Tips for Young Filmmakers

The film has a number of weaknesses, but the biggest mistake that young film makers should learn from is "The Gunman"'s portrayal of women. Its only female character, Annie spends the film as an entirely passive onlooker. She makes nothing happen for herself and the only thing she seems to care about is Sean Penn. Between scenes of her being fawned over by Penn or Javier Bardem, we see that she is a doctor, but her individual personality is never expressed, except by men talking about how wonderful she is.
There is an interesting test for movies called the Bechdel Test. It basically asks if two women have a conversation in a film about anything other than a man. This film doesn't even have two women having a conversation, showing how far it comes from passing the Bechdel Test.
Young film makers emulating the action of films would do well to aim for the intensity and realism of the action in The Gunman, but should certainly learn from its outdated portrayal of women as objects.


1/5; weak performances by its leads, not enough use of a talented supporting cast and a story with too many plot holes to ignore - definitely one to forget

In cinemas from Friday 20th March. Certificate 15

Review by Sean Boyle

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