A sniper on a mercenary assassination team, kills the minister of mines of the Congo. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself.
‘The Gunman’ is the latest action thriller to provide an aging star with the opportunity to do his best Liam Neeson impression, with Sean Penn the latest to have a go. Directed by ‘Taken’ helmer Pierre Morel, ‘The Gunman’ is a better than average thriller that uses a strong cast to overcome the deficiencies in its conspiracy laden script. The film begins in the Democratic Republic of Congo 8 years ago, focusing on Sean Penn’s gun for hire who has to leave the continent (and his girlfriend, Jasmine Trinca) after his involvement in a covert assassination. He’s drawn back to that experience when he finds himself being hunted by someone for his part in the conspiracy, and this leads to a globe trotting adventure taking in London, Barcelona and Gibraltar (over and above the initial scenes in Africa).
The average material is elevated by a stronger than normal cast for this type of film, with Penn’s fellow Oscar winner Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba all providing enjoyable turns throughout the film. The best of the supporting bunch is Mark Rylance, recently seen in the BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’ but more commonly known for his theatre work, whose raspy work as an old colleague of Penn’s character is scenery chewing at its finest. The film struggles when it strives to make a moral point about multinational corporations using unethical means to further their financial aims in the third world, with the conspiracy angle not really making a whole lot of sense beyond providing the driving force behind the plot. There is a strong message to be made about this subject, but a generic action thriller is never likely to be the place and Morel’s work is strongest when focusing on the action sequences.
The action sequences are strong throughout the film, with the thrilling breakout from the country house and the clever plan at the rented apartment in Barcelona particular highlights. The performances, particularly from Penn, keep the man on the run angle interesting and exciting even when the plot falters, albeit proceedings do rely on action film conventions a little too much (how many times do we need to see two gunmen lose their weapons and start fighting hand to hand?!). After the earlier excellent action sequences, the final setpieces at an aquarium and a bullfighting show feel a little disappointing and don’t make the most of their setting, but they help the film to conclude in a satisfying way.
‘The Gunman’ is a solid action movie with a great cast, but it’s not likely to do the numbers to warrant a sequel like most of these films seem to be aiming for these days.
Directed By: Pierre Morel
Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance, Idris Elba and Javier Bardem