Writers: Don MacPherson, Pete Travis, Jean-Patrick Manchette (novel)
Cast: Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca
Running time: 115mins
The lowdown: It’s the Sean Identity, or The Bourne I-Penn-tity, with this overly-familiar, surprise free espionage actioner. Penn is Jim Terrier, an ex-Special Forces military contractor in the Congo who moonlights as an assassin for big corporations. Exiled after killing the Congolese Mining Minister, Terrier is forced back to his old life years later when his black op team mates start turning up dead. Taken director Pierre Morel is on board to do for Sean what he did for Liam Neeson, but it’s a hollow misfire.
The full verdict: Really it should be little surprise Sean Penn is jumping aboard the autumn-period action hero gravy train. In 2005 he tried to be re-Bourne in Sydney Pollack’s uneven The Interpreter, and in 2010 had a similar go with Fair Game, directed by The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman.
So, third time lucky? Short answer, no. Inevitable pun – this Gunman is way off target. A choppy opening fifteen minutes is presumably opaque so you’ll spend the next half hour trying to get into the film and not spot how ho-hum the not-very-clever mystery is.
Retreading ground worn smooth by rogue agents and shadowy conspiracies on the big and small screen, the plot has Penn’s Terrier country-hopping to discover who wants to cancel his ticket. But, while he has a well-equipped safe house in every port from the Congo to London to Barcelona to Gibraltar it is the audience who will be three steps ahead of the game.
Meaning incidental pleasures must be snatched wherever they can be found. Most come from Sean, resembling the odd offspring of Robert De Niro and Expendables-era Sly Stallone, running around shirtless to showcase all those hours spent in the gym. There is a particularly sinewy version of 50 Shades of Grey to be had if he reteams with equally honed ex Madonna…
Sean also surfs, defiantly smokes and has the Chinese symbol for “power” tattooed on his arm. If he’d formed a band with his co-stars the midlife crisis fantasy would have been complete.
Naturally, when Terrier is reunited with his twenty-years-younger-humanitarian-aid-worker-lost-love Annie (Trinca), it’s the obligatory indignant face slap before the no-nudity clause slap and tickle.
Like Penn, everyone recalls someone else in The Gunman. Portly Ray Winstone as a geezerish ex-SAS buddy of Terrier’s is weirdly reminiscent of the late, great Mel Smith. Mark Rylance, woefully miscast as a black op orchestrator and a long way from Wolf Hall, echoes David Essex. Javier Bardem as a sneaky Congo acquaintance is a Bill Hicks lookalikee. Poor old Idris Elba impersonates someone who signed on for a bigger part then saw most of it languish in the Deleted Scenes folder.
The script perfunctorily provides filler dialogue between shaky cam action scenes, which do have the good grace to be loud and explosive if unremarkable. The plot also leans heavily on hoary old chestnut post-traumatic stress disorder to delay Terrier beating the bad guys and shaving fifteen minutes off the run time.
The lesson could be don’t adapt a 33 year-old novel, its one-time freshness risks petrifying into cliché. And the climax against a backdrop of bullfighting requires an end credit caveat saying Catalonia has been bullfighting free since 2012.
The real bad guy of the film though is Annie. A humanitarian aid worker who doesn’t seem bothered by Terrier’s assassinations and the subsequent misery brought on the local population. She is also adopting an orphan when Terrier re-enters her life, but the tyke is promptly forgotten when Annie accompanies her old flame on his lethal jaunt.
Meaning you’re left with the image of a teary tot sitting in the orphanage reception with a suitcase. His story might be worth telling.