Sean Penn plays Jim Terrier, an ex-killer seeking redemption, in this generic, lifeless action misfire. The Gunman is directed by Pierre Morel, who helmed Taken, and the entire exercise feels like an attempt to do for Penn what Taken did for Liam Neeson. That the film is two hours of ploddingly directed, dreadfully scripted tedium should ensure that doesn’t happen.
We begin in Africa (in Congo, but the film doesn’t care), where Terrier kills people for a shadowy western company. It feels like a film that wants to make a point but isn’t sure what it is, so for about 15 minutes it has a go at being a politically-minded thriller, with vague overtones about the moral bankruptcy of neocolonialism.
And then we forget all that and abruptly leave Africa for Europe, where Terrier investigates a plot to kill him and tries to reconnect with Annie, the woman he left behind. The cast is irritatingly impressive for such a dud – Javier Bardem and Mark Rylance play Penn’s former colleagues – but none of them seem to care about what’s going on. And why would they? Their characters talk to one another like action-movie robots, approximating appropriate dialogue about the ‘bad things’ they’ve done, and calling each other things like ‘cowboy’. Terrier, who is actually pretty dislikeable, undergoes an inexplicably swift transformation from someone who ‘doesn’t do that stuff anymore’, to an extravagant murderer of Spanish policemen.
The most offensive character is Annie. Even among action-movie women, she is insultingly undeveloped. At the beginning, she loves Terrier. Then he leaves, so she marries Bardem, his boss. When Terrier reappears eight years later she immediately sleeps with him, and then, when he reveals his reprehensible past, immediately forgives him. She’s less a character than a plot expedient, with any personality swapped out for her suitably worthy jobs as both a doctor and primary-school teacher. Oh, and Penn spends far too much time displaying his ridiculously ripped abs, to the point where you become a bit cynical about what his co-writer credit was actually for.
It isn’t spectacularly awful or anything. It isn’t memorable enough for that. Plus, the fighting is okay. It’s just pointless.