Although its pace is a bit slow at times, The Gunman benefits from stylized filming and great action sequences. The film’s plot is a tad familiar, but Sean Penn’s performance makes it worth taking the time to watch.
Based Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman, the film was directed by Pierre Morel (Taken and District B13) with a screenplay by Penn, Don MacPherson, and Pete Travis. Flavio Martínez Labiano (Non-Stop, Unknown) handled the cinematography – giving the film a look that is a mix of gloss and documentary.
Without giving away too many spoilers, The Gunman starts off in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where Jim Terrier (Penn) is working security for a company developing the area and has fallen for aid worker Annie (Jasmine Trinca) – who doesn’t know that Terrier is actually there to assassinate the a minister in the Congo government. When his handler Felix (Bardem) gets the call to do the hit, Terrier has to take the shot and then leave the country. His quick exit gives him no time for goodbyes with Annie. The assassination also results in riots and more killing in the country.
Years later working for a company to bring fresh water to the Congo, Terrier is trying to atone for his former sins, but finds himself drawn back into his violent world when he is attacked. The attackers have connections with the hit on the minister and cause Terrier to go on the run to try and find answers before he is taken out. While he is investigating who could be behind the attack, Terrier reconnects with Felix – who is now married to Annie.
As time is running out and with Annie by his side, Terrier is forced to take out the men responsible for the hit while trying to avoid Jackie Barnes (Elba) and other law enforcement.
The Gunman is a solid action film, but does have some problems that keep it from being great. Penn (who got into incredible shape for the film) is perfect in the role of Terrier and has a violence that seems to just breathe right under the skin. Before the assassination, it seems Terrier might consider walking away from his profession for Annie, but he makes the decision to pull that trigger knowing it means he won’t see her again. He does seek some redemption for his past, and seems haunted by that killing.
Once he is on the run, there is little mercy shown to those who are after him or old friends who may be involved. Penn delivers the character as a quiet killer and handles the action sequences with a believable grit that makes you want to see more of the character – even if another film seems unlikely.
As good as Penn is in the film, the rest of the cast is practically wasted in the movie. Bardem has the acting talent to be a great villain and clearly had the chemistry with Penn to be believable in the role. Early scenes in the film show Felix jealous of Terrier and Annie, but later he seems to barely care about the woman. Elba is one of the best actors working today, but his character comes across as almost an afterthought, and only seems to show up to give Terrier a bit of information he pretty much already knew. Perhaps his character would have become a bigger part of the story should a franchise had happened, but he seems completely wasted in this film.
On Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds incredible. The film is slow, but I loved the way Morel and company set up their shots and used the production and locations to grind the film in reality. It won’t please everyone, but The Gunman shows Penn has the skills for the action genre.