Magazine article Screen International

The Gunman

Magazine article Screen International

The Gunman

Article excerpt

Dir: Pierre Morel. US-UK, 2015, 114 mins.

Sean Penn takes an unconcealed knife at a slice of the $900m (and counting) Taken market in The Gunman, Silver Pictures' ageing-assassin drama which totters unsteadily across Africa and Europe before grinding to a gory halt in a Spanish bullring.

A muddled bid for political relevance has led the film-makers to drag on The Gunman's primary mission: to entertain.

Director Pierre Morel launched the Taken franchise, and has been enthusiastically co-opted into The Gunman by star/co-writer/producer Sean Penn - a force of nature indeed, with his glistening, bulging biceps propelling the action at every turn.

The Gunman feels like two films sparring uneasily with each other, however. There's a political drama - a Len Deighton-style story about a gang of former special ops who use the cover of an NGO to wreak havoc on the beknighted Democratic Republic of Congo and must now pay the price. And there's a Taken-style romp with a beautiful kidnap victim, location porn, and a high body count of random Spanish heavies, all violently dispatched.

With a plot rooted in the Congo (which coincidentally boasts great surf for a 54-year-old former mercenary to gratuitously display his pecs), The Gunman ticks all the genre boxes for being macho, violent, and tough-guy-talent-laden (Javier Bardem, Idris Elba and Ray Winstone appear, alongside, interestingly, Mark Rylance, straight from the Tudor success of TV's Wolf Hall).

But it's also leisurely, unfocused, and a little too indulgent of its star. With a tighter grip, The Gunman could have held its theatrical demographic to a lengthy ransom, but will probably look to strong opening weekend returns in all markets followed by healthy VOD instead.

The Gunman has loftier aims than Taken; its plotting is more modern-day Le Carre as it sets up a gang of former special forces operatives who provide security cover for an NGO in the Congo (the screenplay is taken from a novel by French author Jean-Patrick Manchette). Jim Terrier (Penn), Felix (Bardem) and Cox (Rylance) are really mercenaries who work for a shadowy mining company, however, and Jim is the "designated trigger" for a hit on the Congo's Minister of Mining, with disastrous effects for the DRC which is plunged into civil war and genocide.

Jim is forced to leave the country, abandoning his hot doctor girlfriend Annie (Italian actress Trinca from The Son's Room) without a word. Eight years later, his sins have come back to haunt him, and Jim goes on the run in an attempt to find out who is trying to kill him and his fellow operatives. …

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