Sean Penn is an intense actor but you’d think he’d lighten up in his first foray into the action genre. However, he never cracks a smile in this well made but rather dour actioner. Taken director Pierre Morel once again takes a dramatic actor and tries to make him into an action hero but Penn just can’t commit like Liam Neeson. It’s a solid attempt but while Penn may have the look – he just takes things way too seriously.
Penn is Jim Terrier, a retired assassin who must go back into the game when his past comes back to haunt him. The Gunman plays like a pensionable Jason Bourne, and while Penn is surrounded by a great cast (Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba) it just doesn’t come together. It might be authentic but it never feels entertaining and you have to feel that Penn is responsible – having co-written and produced the film. It’s like he signed on to make the film and then felt he had to give it some integrity, rather than embracing the genre for what it is. Other ageing action stars would have done this with a twinkle in their eye, while Penn plays it like a man in need of a serious dose of laxatives.
Penn may have physically committed to the role but he attacks the role with an intensity that may be honourable but feels misplaced. You wouldn’t be surprised if he watched Madonna’s Vogue video before each take. The only person who appears to be having fun here is Bardem, who chews the scenery like a year old chorizo. He knows the movie he’s making but everyone else seems to believe they’re making a feature UNICEF commercial. Although, to be fair, Ray Winstone seems to be doing what he does best – playing himself. Meanwhile Idris Elba plays his tiny part as if he’s been distracted by all the James Bond rumours, sidelined with an unnecessary Interpol role.
All the elements are in place to make a top notch thriller but this lacks magic to make this a fun thriller. Exotic locations and well executed action sequences can’t make up for the emotional inertia that takes place onscreen. There’s supposed to be a love story at the centre of The Gunman but it never feels real.
You’ll want to enjoy The Gunman but this Sean Penn misfire fails to hit the target.
Some behind the scenes odds and ends can’t make up for a disappointing feature.