Everyone wants to have their own Taken now. I’m all for it in theory. It’s great to see Liam Neeson become an action hero, and the John Travolta/Kevin Costner ones were fun too. Not as much of a stretch since they’d done many action movies already, but it sure is outside the box for Sean Penn. There are moments in The Gunman, but it takes itself too seriously to forgive all the gaps in logic and narrative. Perhaps The Gunman needs to be Taken to task!
Jim (Sean Penn) completes an assassination in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. Eight years later, he’s attacked on another mission in the Congo, and flees to Europe for help from his old gang. But, it opens up old wounds and forms a love triangle and people are still shooting at him. Also Jim is getting a form of concussive dementia from all the loud gunshots he’s endured.
As generic hit man plots go, the Congo is a different milieu. It just goes to show you can do the exact same stuff anywhere. I’m actually a little relieved it’s just a generic hitman doublecross plot. When it hinted at a serious political issue movie, The Gunman was an oppressive bore. Generic politics is the lesser of two evils.
The Gunman does forget to be an action movie for almost an hour. During that time, Jim just keeps going to new elaborate locations for more exposition. His former partner Felix (Javier Bardem) is drunk and stumbling in every scene, and that’s his character. The rekindled romance with Annie (Jasmine Trinca) is ridiculous. They do a sloppy kissing scene with absurd intensity.
When the shooting starts again it’s a decent action movie. It’s Taken style from Pierre Morel, which means the camera shakes but it’s still coherent. It’s more that it keeps decapitations bloodless, which is weird because The Gunman is rated R and there’s more blood elsewhere. But Jim is resourceful in combat and badass walking into more danger instead of away.
Even in the best of the action though, there are odd lapses in detail. For example, some stablehands get caught in the crossfire of an assault. Did they just keep working while the gunfight was going on in the house? They look so surprised when the shooting reaches the stables, after several minutes of gunplay. One henchman sports a bandage on his chin to indicate he survived the last encounter. It would almost be more believable if he had no injuries. A chin bandage just draws attention to it, like, “He survived, but he got banged up!”
There are some unexpected kills that I won’t spoil, but that also means I can’t even compliment the only part of the movie that does work. The climax is set in an exotic location to guzzy up the fact that it’s just a generic chase/fight. We’re not fooled.
And remember how I casually mentioned the head trauma and then didn’t address it? That’s how the movie handles it too. Jim is diagnosed but then suffers no symptoms for most of the movie, until suddenly it hits him again.
It’s nice to see Penn try something more mainstream. He’s welcome to bring his political messages to it if the movie can deliver the goods. The Gunman has hints at what an action hero Penn can be, but that also makes it more frustrating. It’s convoluted when we’d accept simple, and absurd when we’re trying to take it seriously.