Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, a host of aging Hollywood stars migrated to the prolific corridors of B-grade European “actioners.”
Films like The Amsterdam Kill with Robert Mitchum, Dog Day with Lee Marvin or especially Kirk Douglas in The Master Touch (which is a pretty brilliant heist film) all enjoyed a bit of their cinematic second wind “slumming” in these lesser known titles where action and mood took precedence over emotional weight. I’m sure it was a bit deflating to not have every hot new script thrown their direction, but that’s the uncompromising nature of growing older.
More recently, Liam Neeson has followed the template of gracefully morphing into an over-the-hill butt kicker in the Taken series, and now we can add Sean Penn to the list with his latest film, The Gunman. Equally distraught and left out in the cold with a specific (and very deadly) set of skills, the film wastes no time in propelling Penn as a hardened man-against-the-world as he globetrots and dodges hired killers from the Congo to Barcelona.
Things start ordinarily enough with Penn as Jim Terrier (nice name wordplay since he often goes about his revenge like a rabid dog), an operative working as part of a private organization’s protection services for aid workers in the Congo. When he’s not on duty, he spends his time with worker Annie (Jasmine Trinca), which seems to make his partner and contact Felix (Javier Bardem) more than a little jealous.
One night, Terrier’s seemingly peaceful job changes and he and two other men are dispatched to points around the city where they’re ordered to carry out their real mission, which includes political ‘black ops’. From that point on, The Gunman jumps ahead in time when associates of Terrier wind up dead and someone begins to stalk him as well. Trying to uncover whose behind the plot leads him back to old acquaintances and “spook” friends (such as Ray Winstone) while trying to reconnect his relationship with the shuttled Annie, now involved with Felix.
Working the other side of the equation is a shadowy figure played by Idris Elba, watching Terrier for his own selfish reasons.
Bouncing around exotic locales, such as an expansive country estate, an aquarium and even a Spanish bull fighting arena, The Gunman, at times, feels pulpy and muscular since no matter where Terrier ends up a gunfight is close behind. Filmmaker Pierre Morel runs Penn through the ringer, which is actually refreshing for an action film to punish its anti-hero in this manner. Likewise, there are several hand-to-hand combat scenes that crank up the bone-crunching and linger on the swipe of the knife just long enough to satisfy the gore hounds and make one squeal with displeasure.
If I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time on the simple plot points of The Gunman, it’s because the film is not very distinctive. It’s competently made, plausibly acted and moves swiftly enough, yet it lacks any real oomph. Then again, a film with a title as basic as The Gunman probably doesn’t need much depth.
I’m not sure if Penn quite has the legs for a series like Liam Neeson, but watching him wheeze and stumble his way through the film is more than enough to fulfill my cheesy 80’s action vibe.
The film opens wide in theaters throughout Dallas/Ft. Worth today.