Synopsis – 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.
My Take – Right after the success of Liam Neeson in the ‘Taken’ series, a whole bunch of 50+ actors seemed to be taking the same route ‘don’t mess with the old dude’ formula in order to re capture their looming stardom, well for obvious reasons most have failed, with the exception of the ever awesome Denzel Washington (The Equalizer), who is awesome in everything he does! This time around Sean Penn, an actor (according to me) who at times is too serious for his own good, decides to take the now too familiar route for no reason whatsoever with director Pierre Morel, the man behind the original ‘Taken’! While the film has bombed at the BO & has received negative reception all over, I still say the film is not that bad, who am I kidding, its just stale! The story follows Jim Terrier (Sean Penn in his first major big screen role in two years), an ex-special forces soldier, who works with the CIA as a member of a security detail protecting employees of NGOs in third world countries like the Congo. Jim’s group also has a “parallel mission” of doing financially and politically motivated hits for unknown organizations who are pretty high in the global pecking order. Jim’s less than thrilled with his job and suddenly flees Africa, leaving his surgeon girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), in the care of his boss, Felix (Javier Bardem). Eight years later, Jim is a broken man, apparently trying to atone for a past that just can’t seem to leave him alone. He suffers from massive headaches and other disorienting symptoms from blows to the head he took while working as a special operator. Emotionally, he’s not in much better shape.
He hasn’t seen Annie since he left her without explanation and he also regrets the things he’s done professionally. His answer is to come back to the Congo to help dig wells that will provide the locals with safer and more accessible drinking water. One day, a group of gun and machete-wielding thugs storm the site where Jim is working. They’re either really upset about what’s coming out of their taps at home, or they have an even more serious beef with him. Jim sets out to discover the reason for the attempt on his life before it’s too late. This leads him to reconnect with acquaintances from his past (Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance) and make new acquaintances (Idris Elba), while using his own “particular set of skills” to stay alive long enough to get to the bottom of what’s been happening. His quest takes him from the Congo to London, Gibraltar and Barcelona. There are shoot-outs, fight scenes and chases aplenty and the movie gives us one of the more original climactic scenes that I’ve witnessed in quite a while. Yet, while watching this I knew why the film failed, mainly as it tries to take itself too seriously considering its cliched ridiculous plot! The reason why ‘Taken’ was such a success that it accepted & endured its plot holes & embraced its ridiculousness for the sake of providing fun, which clearly this film was in no mood to do so. The first half of the movie, once the prologue is over, is overly long and lacks any real action. However, the action picks up after that and some of the action scenes in the 2nd half of the film are quite fun, if overly gory, for this type of movie. This is particularly disappointing as the director of this film, Pierre Morel, was the Cinematographer of the first two Transporter films and is the director of the first Taken film, so I thought he’d have the tone of these types of movies down. As I mentioned before the plot respectively ‘sucks’! The anonymous villain in the background that we never see is an enigmatic corporation that exploits the Congo’s mineral-wealthy resources for billions. As laudable as this anti-corporate ideology is, it gets lost in this confused actioner and the noise of gunfire. Basically, the upper echelon villains are never shown when Interpol arrests them. Desperately, the film aspires to be another “Blood Diamond,” but it fails miserably by comparison. This message laden potboiler bogs down in its own pretentious storytelling. Basically everything that occurs between the awesomely staged gunfights is designed to baffle if not bore you. Simultaneously, the biggest actors are squandered, too! First, Oscar winner Javier Bardem dies about an hour into the fracas.
Second, you catch glimpses of Idris Elba, but this magnetic British actor is sidelined essentially until the last quarter-hour. Third, cast as a stereotypical damsel-in-distress, Jasmine Trinca makes only a minor impression as Penn’s love interest. Director Pierre Morel, who as I mentioned in my opening paragraph directed the first Taken film, knows how to direct some fabulous action scenes, and this is clearly the case in this film, but yet this film will surely be affecting his resume as a director, as clearly he requires a good writer to accompany him. Sean Penn , who produced and co-scripted the film, as stated above, is an overly-serious actor that takes his craft over- seriously and usually drives an overly-serious tone to whatever project he is involved with, its pretty obvious from where this unnecessary over serious failing tone came in the film. while Rylance and Bardem seem to be having a little less serious time with their characters. The always watchable Ray Winstone shows up as a shady character from Penn’s past and elevates every scene he is in. The head scratch er is Idris Elba. I don’t know what he is doing in this movie, clearly a paycheck film for him. On the whole, despite its enviable cast, exotic locales, and energetic action scenes, this Sean Penn shoot’em up ‘The Gunman’ misfires! If only it had a touch of less seriousness & focused solely on its fun action sequences, this overly-serious action flick could have been saved!
Director – Pierre Morel
Run Time – 115 minutes
Rated – R