2015 / Director. Pierre Morel.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Pierre Morel has a lot to answer for. Almost single-handedly revitalising Liam Neeson's career with TAKEN, and creating a whole sub-genre, he gave birth to a new breed of action film; One where someone like your Dad could take on a host of baddies with a sense of realism and grit that had been relatively unseen since the 70s.
The former cinematographer followed TAKEN with TO PARIS, WITH LOVE to less success and now he returns with THE GUNMAN, a conspiracy-laden thriller with plenty of lively explosions and exotic locales.
Penn stars as Terrier (geddit?), a former mercenary sniper who, after putting a hole the size of your fist in the Congo's Minister For Mining's chest, flees the region only to have his past chase him down 8 years later. From there he doggedly hunts down those who tried to kill him while trying to put together the pieces of the conspiracy.
It'd be easy to mistake THE GUNMAN for Morel's most mature film to date. On the surface it seems to hold more class than the xenophobic nonsense of his debut TAKEN or the playful insanity of his sophomore TO PARIS, WITH LOVE, but you'd be wrong.
Even if THE GUNMAN is set in the complex and morally ambiguous world of politics in the Congo, behind this slightly pretentious façade is a run-of-the-mill cat-and-mouse thriller. In truth, the Congo could have been substituted for any political hotspot. This is not like BLOOD DIAMOND where the region is integral to the plot. Given the lack of originality and depth of the script, perhaps the biggest question that arises from the film is just how it manages to wrangle the class and calibre of talent on show. The cast is an impressive list of contemporary mans-man thesps; Penn, Bardiem, Elba, Winstone, all of whom, presumably, are in it for Penn, here wearing multiple hats as producer, co-writer and star.
This is, after all, exactly the kind of big-budget nonsense we don't expect from him so what gives?
It's no secret that he spends a great deal of time as a humanitarian in regions like the Congo and Haiti, and as a result, it's hard to shake the feeling that his involvement here isn't entirely self-fulfilling and slightly soap-boxy.
He gives it his all, mind you, and handles the bone-crunching action scenes with an intense ferocity that only he can muster. And it's easy to buy him as a former mercenary than it would be, say, a Paul Walker type bristling with a youthful pazaz. Penn's hard life is etched into his pores.
In the softer scenes he's not shy of taking his kit off to display his impressive physique (he's 52 don't forget) while reaching for the vulnerability of a man trying to deal with broken relationships and camaraderies. This is the kind of stuff that's a walk in the park for the Oscar winner.
In the end it all amounts to a lot of hullabaloo with much less to say than one would perhaps think. Not meritless by any stretch but not as clever as it thinks it is either, even if it does have a couple of surprises along the way. It's a decent distraction if nothing else.