It seems every old geezer in Hollywood is turning into an action hero these days. The latest star to follow the Taken path trailblazed by Liam Neeson is Sean Penn, who is no spring chicken at 54 years of age.
Being that it is Sean Penn, there is of course a political slant to it. The plot, therefore, revolves around US mining interests and peacekeeping efforts in the Congo. Penn plays Martin Terrier, a government operative who does something unspeakable for his country and is then forced to disappear. Eight years later, Terrier’s past catches up to him, and a lot of ass-kicking is required for him to make it out alive.
What separates The Gunman from all the Taken wannabes in recent years is that it’s actually directed by the guy who brought us Taken, Pierre Morel. It’s a blessing and a curse because we know what Morel’s capable of but it also sets expectations very high.
The Gunman was almost universally panned by critics, receiving only 17% on Rotten Tomatoes and 39% on Metacritic. Many of the criticisms are valid. The plot, while interesting on its face, is not exactly well developed and fails to make the most of what should have been an intriguing opportunity. There is a fairly lame and unconvincing love triangle between Penn’s character and one played by Jasmine Trinca, an Italian actress two decades younger than him, as well as Javier Bardem’s cookie-cutter jealous a-hole. It also has its fair share of action cliches and is far too long for a movie of this kind at nearly 2 hours.
But you know what? I actually didn’t mind it. Penn is convincing as a man with a very particular set of skills, and he clearly put a lot of effort into transforming his physique just so he could show it off for a couple of seconds. His on-screen presence, physicality and acting chops make him a formidable action hero, badass but also with the right amount of resourcefulness and vulnerability.
The action sequences are Taken-esque, meaning they are done really well — brutal, bone-crunching, visceral, and often heart-pounding. There may be too many boring drama moments, but when the action is on it’s really on.
I’m not proclaiming The Gunman to be a superior action thriller; it’s just that I think it is much more serviceable than it has been made out to be. Sure, it’s not Taken, but it’s arguably better than many of the wannabes.
3.25 stars out of 5