Under cover of working for a non governmental organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jim (Sean Penn) carries out an assassination that sends the country into chaos. Eight years after he fled the DRC, leaving his girlfriend behind, Jim finds himself the target of assassins, and turns to old friends to find out who is on his tail.
Based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel of the same name, The Gunman sees Sean Penn go down the Liam Neeson route of the action thriller, for the first time. The Gunman is more complex than most of the recent action movies we have seen, bringing in politics and government, and it is good to see Sean Penn trying something new.
Despite the fact that he co-wrote The Gunman, Penn seems disengaged from the character he is playing on screen; he does not chew the scenery as much as we have seen from him in the past, but he never manages to make Jim anything other than another man of a certain age in a thriller and a race against time. Javier Bardem slips back into playing the role of the baddie rather well, although his performance is way over the top when compared to Penn’s. He does, however, do some pretty spectacular drunk acting. Jasmine Trinca starts off well as Jim’s girlfriend Annie, but simply turns into another damsel in distress as the film goes on. Ray Winstone plays a loyal but angry Londoner, Idris Elba makes a fleeting appearance and Mark Rylance rounds out the cast as one of Jim’s old friends, Cox.
The screenplay, while written well enough to keep the film moving, has some rather familiar tropes and some dreadful dialogue. As well as this, there are so many twists and turns, and back and forths across the world that the film ends up feeling drawn out and overly long.
Taken director Pierre Morel pulls together the action sequences well in the film, as one might expect, and allows the tension to build in some of the more quiet and suspenseful scenes, but never manages to shake of the Taken feel of the film. As well as this, Morel paces the film poorly, so that even the set pieces – often ridiculous as they are – cannot seem to keep the story moving.
In all, The Gunman feels as though it should have Liam Neeson in the lead role. While it is good to see Penn trying something unfamiliar, he never makes his character feel anything other than generic. Add to this some sloppy pacing and terrible dialogue, and The Gunman, clever as it tries to be, never manages to be anything more than mediocre.