The Gunman 

the-gunman-sean-penn.jpg
UK Release Date 20th March 2015
Director Pierre Morel
Starring MEN
Runtime TOO LONG. 115 Mins
Certificate 15
Reviewer Jo
Reviewed 25th March 2015

Currently I am mostly sleep-deprived. My darling daughter doesn’t sleep but on the plus side has just turned one and has started going to nursery one day a week. That means I get ONE day, a morning really, to pick a film and go see it as usually by the time the ‘normal’ evening hours to see a film roll around I am either:

1)  Asleep

2)  Thinking about being asleep

3)  Wishing I was asleep

This week I chose to go and see The Gunman. Maybe I can blame the sleep deprivation but I thought it would be slick, well written, well directed, well acted. One of those? I was wrong. But come on, look at that cast Bardem, Penn, Winstone, Elba, Mark bloody Rylance for God’s sake, the greatest living theatrical actor IN THE WORLD. So how on earth did The Gunman misfire (ahem) on so many levels? 

Sean Penn is Jim Terrier, a highly appropriate moniker for our somewhat close-mouthed contractor working in the Congo in defence of building sites or something else innocuous that I never really got a handle on. Jim has a hot young filly in the shape of UN Doctor Annie and life is as good as it can be in the troubled Congo. Transpires though that Jim is part of a bigger plan and is actually a hit man for hire who has worked for various shady organisations. This hit in the Congo affects Jim on two levels, it seems to affect him more than previous jobs and it also takes him away from his love Annie in the middle of night with no chance to explain. 8 years later Jim himself is the target of a hit and he needs to start retracing his steps and associations to work out who is trying to kill him. 

Got that? Sorry if it sounded a bit heavy-handed but at times I felt like the script was hitting me over the head with a jackhammer. If Pierre Morel focussed on one more lingering look from Javier Bardem’s character Felix at Annie I wouldn’t have been surprised if a subtitle flashed up that said ‘he fancies her!’ The script is written by Don Macpherson, Penn, and Pete Travis. Macpherson wrote The Avengers and erm…Absolute Beginners.  Travis directed Dredd and erm..Cold Feet. Penn. Well come on, man, it's Sean Penn. The Pledge is one of my favourite films. Likewise Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Milk, 21 Grams, Carlito’s Way, Mystic River. As a director, writer and an actor I would have expected better from our Sean than some of the lines that are uttered in this script. At one point when discovering the handily placed vintage car a farmer kept in a nearby garage Jim says ‘I hope it drives as good as it looks’. Weeeeelll then. It’s simply a very heavy handed script and these formidable actors deserve better. Winstone’s scenes with Penn are some of the most satisfying in the film, shame there are only a handful of them. Rylance fares better but Bardem struggles with the sheer clunkiness of Felix's expositional speeches. Oh yes and Idris Elba is in it. Says so on the poster. He’s in it all right. For about 8 minutes in total. 

Terrier is a confused character. On one hand he’s surfing before meetings and building wells, on the other hand he’s stabbing people in the throat. I get that’s what it’s all about, the guilt and troubled duplicity of being a hit man but there’s not enough subtext or intelligence. It’s miles away from the complexity of  Leon, No Country for Old Men, Grosse Pointe Blank to name but a few films that have mastered the genre. There’s no dignity in the violence. We don’t get underneath Jim’s skin enough to care about him and the ‘love’ story between him and Annie just doesn’t sell. If it was slick and clever perhaps I could have happily just gone along with the ride but sadly it’s not. Morel uses bullfighting as an analogy and a gory set piece towards the end. Bulls are also used by another French director, Jean Marc Valle, in Dallas Buyers Club to great effect. Here it is confusing. What is Morel saying? Is Jim a bull? A fighter? It was lost on me. Bullfighting is spectacularly cruel; admittedly the dancelike balletic nature of it makes it a visually appealing filmic choice but here is feels flat. 

Now I’m not trying to get up in your grill and be all feminist, like, but the sole female character in this film is, frankly, a joke. And not a very funny one. A human rights doctor is a hugely admirable career and yet she is reduced to scenes wearing a white shirt and nothing underneath framed by soft sunlight, smiling beguilingly into the camera as she is admired by her manly lover. Then she marries and seems to have given up medicine to swing children round a playground. Hmmmm. Her character arc barely gets out of the starting blocks. Secondly, Bardem and Rylance are of course outstanding actors but as I watched I couldn’t help but think to myself either of those roles could have been easily have been played by women and the film could have been more interesting for it. I’m pretty sure The Gunman won’t be passing The Bechdel Test any time in my lifetime.   

So on the bright side here are some things I learnt from The Gunman:

1)  Sean Penn looks really buff for a 54 year old.

2)  Sean Penn knows he looks really buff for a 54 year old.

3)  Sean Penn likes to take his top off.

4)  Sean Penn can surf, like, really well.

5)  One only has to don small, sporty sunglasses to become invisible to all of the most highly trained operatives in the world. Probably only works for Sean Penn though. 

6)  Women could easily be replaced with pretty, blow up dolls.

7)  Female UN Doctors are really sexy and only like to wear the crisp white shirts of their lovers after sex (whilst framed in a sunlit doorway).

8)  Female UN Doctors don’t have ANY wrinkles, even after a 12-year period with a harrowing job.

9)  Spanish farmers keep nifty fully working antique cars in their garages with the keys handily in the ignition.  Score!

In Short: 

Movies of this genre are often pulled out of a quagmire of complacency by the strength of the cast but even this stellar ensemble couldn’t save The Gunman from sinking into frustrating, lamentable cinematic quicksand.

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