Sometimes the actions of a performer off stage color or alter your perception of that person on stage. I don’t think most people will be able to watch Bill Cosby perform standup (or sit down in his case) without thinking about the allegations of rape or sexual misconduct against him by over three dozen women. And while many of his hardcore fans stayed faithful to him, Michael Jackson was always under a cloud of suspicion after allegations of child molestation that eventually led to a trial where he was found not guilty. While his actions usually aren’t illegal (except beating up the occasional photographer), actor Sean Penn is considered a left-wing radical by those who disagree with his political views and probably won’t go see his latest film “The Gunman.” Penn obviously doesn’t worry about his critics as he includes some of his politics in the script he co-wrote. If those who don’t like his views could look past their opinions for a couple of hours, they might find a pretty decent action movie.
James Terrier (Sean Penn) is working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to build a landing strip and help with humanitarian aid in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. In reality, Terrier and his co-workers are actually part of a private security firm being paid by mining interests in the region to provide security and other services. Terrier is informed by Felix (Javier Bardem), the liaison between his employer and their client, that he has been given an assignment to assassinate the minister who oversees mining agreements as he has just ordered all contracts to be renegotiated. Once the mission is completed, Terrier will have to leave the country immediately, abandoning his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor working in a nearby village. Eight years later, hoping to atone for his actions, Terrier is back in the Congo with an organization digging wells to bring fresh, clean water to the people. Armed men show up looking for “the white man.” Terrier is able to kill all his attackers except one who is killed by one of his assistants. Searching the bodies, Terrier finds vials meant to hold samples of his blood once he was dead to verify via DNA they had killed the right man. Terrier flies to London to visit with his former colleague Cox (Mark Rylance) who, now in management, still works with the private security firm. Somebody wants Terrier dead and he hopes Cox can help. Cox doesn’t have any information but suggests he fly to Madrid where Felix is running a company connecting businesses and charities. While in London, Terrier is hit with debilitating headaches and nausea. After an MRI, a doctor tells Terrier he has plaque built up in his brain from repeated blows to the head. He’s supposed to avoid any more concussive noises and stress. Set up with phony documents, a car and an apartment by his friend Stanley (Ray Winstone), Terrier is cautious since someone could be following him. And someone is as we see people tracking his movements with public security cameras. He finds Felix’s house and observes him through a window, seeing him kiss Annie. They are now married and attempting to adopt a child. Meeting Felix at his company, Terrier asks for help and Felix says he will make a few calls to find out what he can. There’s an odd tension between the men due to Felix and Annie being married but is there something else Felix isn’t saying?
While there’s certainly nothing original about “The Gunman” and it isn’t terribly imaginative with its plot, I found myself enjoying the film despite its 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it’s my age as Penn is just about a year older than me, but I enjoyed the action and the espionage aspects of the film. “The Gunman” is another in the “over-50” action genre that is pretty much the exclusive domain of Liam Neeson. It tries to be smarter by mixing in the interference of international conglomerates in the political affairs of a Third-World country; but the film lives or dies on the action and for me “The Gunman” did a pretty good job.
Penn appears to have the body of a 25-year old. From his bulging arms to his washboard abs, Penn must either spend hours in the gym with a personal trainer or is juicing. Either way, the results look impressive on screen for a 54-year old man. Penn needed the stamina to carry out the stunts he’s asked to do. There are several close up fights that, as is the current fashion, consist of martial arts moves and gymnastics. These are shown in medium shots that don’t isolate the movements of only one limb. You can see the action and actually follow what’s happening, which I appreciate.
The film also doesn’t skimp on the number of gunshot deaths we get to see with lots of gory detail. Whether it’s blood spatter on a wall behind a victim or being able to see the hole blown out of someone’s head, “The Gunman” isn’t shy about showing about as much as anyone could want to see.
The globetrotting the film does is a kind of travelogue for those of us who will probably never go to Europe. We spend time in London, Madrid and Gibraltar as well as what is supposed to be the jungles of the Congo. The settings are taken advantage of best in Madrid where we spend the majority or the film’s running time. Downtown apartments, estates in the countryside and narrow city streets give the film a luxurious and exotic feel. While it isn’t as exotic as most Bond films, it still manages to make the setting feel unique.
The movie runs into some trouble in two areas: First, the romance between Terrier and Annie feels forced, like they felt the need to create some emotional tension and tacked on a romantic aspect to the story. I didn’t believe the intense connection between the two characters and the decisions those feelings lead them to make. Jasmine Trinca is a fine actress who has done most of her work in her homeland of Italy. She has a believably beautiful face that conveys all the emotion one might expect from the events in the film; but the combination of Penn and Trinca feels like a mismatch. Second, the political and economic aspects of the story feel overly complicated and under explained. Perhaps in the editing some exposition was cut out. I felt lost on a couple of occasions and wasn’t sure who was doing what to whom. That confusion wasn’t from crafty storytelling, but from jumbled storytelling. While I like the idea of the story, the story itself isn’t fully fleshed out.
“The Gunman” is rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality. As stated earlier, the film is full of bloody gunshot wounds. There are also a couple of stabbings and a death by goring. There are a couple of scenes with people in bed. One scene shows a couple having sex but there is no graphic nudity. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.
It isn’t unique and it won’t set any box office records (it made only $5 million its opening weekend), but “The Gunman” still has something that made me like it. Perhaps it’s a combination of settings and action that appeals to me. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed “The Gunman” even though I appear to be in the minority.
“The Gunman” gets four stars out of five.
It’s a light week at the multiplex with just two new films opening up. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
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