STARS: Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Jasmine Trinca
DIRECTOR: Pierre Morel
I wanted to like The Gunman, and in the beginning I thought that I might. A great actor in Sean Penn; mesmerizing score from Marco Beltrami; some heady aerial cinematography of exotic locales; and a developing love triangle involving the characters played by Penn, Javier Bardem (speaking of pretty darn good actors), and Jasmine Trinca, who reminds me just a wee bit of Ingrid Bergman.
But then the movie devolves into your typical Hollywood BANG BANG SHOOT 'EM UP killfest, designed to show off the impressive results of Sean Penn's gym workouts--so naturally he appears shirtless during much of the action.
Under the cover of working for an NGO in the Congo, ex-special forces operative Jim Terrier (Penn) pulls off an assassination of a government minister, then gets the hell outta Dodge--leaving his girlfriend (Trinca) in the hands of Felix (Bardem), who promises to take good care of her. That he does, and later Terrier finds the two of them married to each other. That's one big bummer, but an even bigger one is the multi-national corporation that hired him to do the hit is now coming after him, because he knows too much. Cue ubiquitous hand-to hand-combat, shootouts, bodies piling up....your usual action/thriller fare intended to numb you to onscreen violence so they can keep selling it to you again and again. What becomes commonplace becomes accepted--and hey, at least it takes you out of your humdrum workaday life, right?.
The trouble with films spawned from novels--in this case The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette--is that they're trying to cram so many plot elements into the allotted time, to remain at least somewhat faithful to the book, that everything moves at warp speed. There's no time to pause and reflect upon what just occurred, or to totally grasp how it all fits into the big picture so you can follow along without feeling like a dumb ass.
And why are we supposed to root for things to turn out well for a paid assassin? Because he now works for a real NGO in a Carter-esque attempt at redemption? In the old days, our movie heroes were clearly good guys. Now we are asked to resonate with sociopaths, a la Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper. As long as they show us they still have a human side lurking in there somewhere, it's okay. But that's a slippery slope. And to feed the conspiracy theorist in us all, you may want to consider how such a mindset might make you more forgiving of things like...oh...American foreign policy, for example. (Just a thought--I usually have ONE every day.)
The silliest thing about The Gunman, though, is the ludicrous fairy tale ending. But hey, don't get me started.
Grade: D +