On the Silver Screen – The Gunman
Pierre Morel’s The Gunman casts Sean Penn as a sniper on a mercenary assassination team forced to go into hiding after a successful kill shot puts him on a hit list.
Following in Liam Neeson’s aging action hero footsteps Sean Penn does a really capable job of doing the action hero thing. He has an impressive physicality and is definitely believable in the part. It does help that he’s in remarkable shape for a man his age and definitely seems like he has skills built up over a long career.
Penn gives Jim Terrier a real sense of grizzled depth and comes across as something of a tortured soul who has been made bitter by seeing terrible things over the course of his life. I liked that a lot of his past was implied through half told stories and the suggestion of a really violent career. Penn plays Terrier as being a man of few words who lets his physicality do the talking. Most of what he says is straight to the point as he is a man who doesn’t care for small talk. I liked the subplot about his medical condition that actually pays off in a cool way.
There’s a strong supporting cast here who don’t really get much to do. Javier Bardem’s Felix plays a character who is absolutely cringeworthy to watch. His major scene makes him come across as a raving lunatic. It’s a shame that such a great actor was wasted like that.
Idris Elba has a really small role as Interpol agent DuPont but what little screen time he has is very significant. He and Penn bounce off each other really well and there’s an implied level of respect between the two of them.
Mark Rylance’s Cox is really good as the central antagonist but could have used a little more time to develop. It’s quite late in the game that his connection is established so there’s not enough time to show the relationship between the two characters. What he has is good but there could have been a lot more. I really liked the scenes between the Penn and Rylance. There was a lot of weight to their interactions and the implied history between them works really well.
Ray Winstone also has a really small role but he’s great when we see him. I liked his character and I really wanted to see a lot more of him. He was very much Ray Winstone but he does that very well. I never tire of seeing him do that schtick because nobody does grizzled English tough guy quite like him.
Jasmine Trinca’s Annie serves as the love interest he had to leave behind when going into hiding. She has very little to her character and only seems to exist to be a pretty face. She and Sean Penn don’t really have all that great chemistry and I doubt the film would change much without her presence.
Structurally the film was a little strange. For the longest time it seemed like it was going to be a thriller but then turned into an action film about halfway through. The two halves of the film don’t really seem to connect together organically so any scenes not building up to an action sequence feel a little like killing time. At times the plot seemed overly complicated for what ultimately amounts to a series of shoot outs.
The action scenes were very impressive and had a lot of diversity to them in terms of location. The climatic action scene in a bullfighting arena has some really memorable stuff. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like that before. The film is worth seeing for that alone.
An uneven experience that allows Sean Penn to give the aging action hero role a try to capitalise on the popularity.
Sean Penn does a great job with the more physical aspects of the role. He seems really deadly and skilled with an imposing physique helping him to seem believable in the role.
Beyond that, Penn gives his character a real sense of world weary grizzled depth that comes from a long career of seeing terrible things. A subplot about a worsening medical condition actually manages to pay off in an organic way as well.
The supporting cast are a mixed bag with Javier Bardem being cringeworthy to watch and Jasmine Trinca feeling entirely superflous to the story. Ray Winstone and Idris Elba do an impressive job with small yet pivotal roles in the story. Mark Rylance does a good job as the antagonist but arrives a little too late in the story to be properly developed.
Structurally the film is a little strange with half of it seeming like a thriller with the other half becoming a fairly standard yet impressive action movie. I feel that the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be so awkwardly combines elements of both.
The action scenes are incredibly watchable with some really cool stuff thrown in there. I found the climatic shootout in a bullfighting arena to be incredibly memorable in a lot of ways.