A moustachioed and humourless American mercenary named Terrier assassinates the Congolese Minister of Mines. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad assigned to wipe out any and all persons connected to the assassination.
Pierre Morel’s The Gunman, co-written and starring Sean Penn, starts rather strongly, informing the audience of the severe human rights violations that have ravaged the people and environment of the Congo for decades. Images of crying children and child miners digging through the dirt while machetes and worn AK’s slash across the screen creating a gonzo-journalistic montage of panic and shock that sends the audience a very clear message: “Shit’s fucked. No joke. This is important.” We’ve all seen Penn in politics-mode over the years, so I for one was intrigued as to what Penn and Morel would illuminate for the audience. My interest was piqued. Fully. What followed was somewhat of a disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong: this movie has some sweet action, bro. Sean Penn being filmed pretending to shoot people looks great. Morel, best known for directing Taken and the first two Transporter movies, orchestrates thrilling action scenes. These things create a strange juxtaposition within the film, however, juggling between a story within a the ‘real world’ of a devastating civil war in which bloodshed, violence and greed have torn apart an entire country, with… Well, Sean Penn decimating non-descript European baddies.
Even the always-reliable Ray Winston fails to motivate any real dramatic action or interest on-screen. His ‘You fuckin’ what?’ trademark becomes cringe-worthy as it highlights badly written dialogue. Jasmine Trinca’s character, Annie, is in the unfortunate position of following the man she loves through dangerous territory. The audience is supposed to take this as an act of uncontrollable love and adoration, but ends up looking a bit thick because Terrier is completely unlikeable (There is a single scene where Sean Penn stumbles through what is supposed to be playful and cheeky dialogue in a moment of brevity, but leaves you contemplating whether Penn, like Tom Cruise, can remember what genuine humour feels like).
As the movie goes on, the realisation that this film is an all-out one-man-army action movie takes hold, and the audience makes a choice: To go with it (“I paid too much money for this, so please just show me heaps of blood and explosions”), or not (“This character holds literally no redeeming characteristics but the way Sean Penn is shirtless and frowning at himself in a mirror is telling me I should like him.”)
The film really has a go at presenting Terrier as a haunted hero, reluctant to do what he does best, but what we end up seeing is a childish and selfish tosser who killed people a while back, felt bad about it, but still kills heaps of people only to save his own miserable neck, and doesn’t learn a single thing.
Well shot, albeit familiar, action sequences entertain, but become decidedly boring once you realise that you truly don’t give a fuck what happens next.