Lights, Camera, Action! | The Gunman (DVD Movie Review)

By Freda Cooper 19.07.2015

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The Gunman (UK Rating: 15)

On the face of it, The Gunman, on DVD this week (and covered later this week in the Talking Pictures podcast), has Liam Neeson written all over it - except that he's not in it. This time the ageing action hero role goes to Sean Penn and it's not even a case of him replacing Neeson. Penn's all over this one - star, producer, co-writer and he even supervised the final cut of the film, so it wasn't a case of him just taking the money and running. Although the other members of the cast look like they did just that.
Image for Lights, Camera, Action! | The Gunman (DVD Movie Review)

In 2006, hitman Jim Terrier (Penn) assassinates the Minister of Mines in The Congo and is forced into hiding. Some years later, he returns to the country, this time to work for an NGO, but when a gang attacks his team, it becomes obvious that he's the target. Now all he has to do is work out exactly why and track down the person who wants him dead, all of which sounds like a decidedly American piece of work, but it's also a British co-production that is apparent from the start with the conventional use of supposed BBC newsreel providing the background on events in The Congo. Familiar faces like Natasha Kaplinsky, Dermot Murnaghan and Simon McCoy all set the scene, and the film is rounded off by another piece of TV "news," this time from Steven Sackur of BBC News' Hardtalk. He's delivering what is clearly intended as the film's heavy-handed message, about the evils of multi-nationals exploiting developing countries. As an attempt to give the film something of a moral compass, it's not only painfully late but wafer thin. A sizeable portion of the film is also shot in London and the cast includes some familiar British talent as well - a pre-Wolf Hall Mark Rylance, plus Idris Elba and Ray Winstone.

As per the norm, this is another middle-aged action man who's discovered that he has a medical condition that will affect his ability to do his job: in this case, it's been caused by one too many blows to the head over the years, and it does affect him increasingly throughout the film although, when the final scenes arrive, it's as if it's never existed. Of course, another 'expected' trait, there's a pretty girlfriend in tow, but a traditionally decorative one who's helped out of sticky situations by her man and is generally just rather wet. Jasmine Trinca has precious little to do except squeal every time a gun is fired and snog the face off Penn.

It's all very predictable stuff. Penn's travels to track down his would-be assassin take him to some nice locations - Gibraltar and Barcelona, as well as London - and the final showdown takes place during a bull fight in Barcelona. The makers are at pains to point out in the credits that bull fights don't take place in the city anymore, so why include it one? Apart from the obvious Spanish cliché, it gives a confined area for the sequence and a way of disposing of the guilty party that becomes transparently obvious with the first shot of the bull ring.

In a powerful cast of alpha-males alongside Penn, there's Elba, Winstone, and Rylance and no less than Javier Bardem, who looks decidedly uncomfortable as a charity worker of sorts. Are any of them involved in trying to kill Penn? Which one(s)? Does anybody really care? Certainly, it seems like none of the cast do. Despite his billing, Elba's role is little more than an inflated cameo, while Winstone is a caricature East End mercenary, complete with shoulder length hair. Only Rylance gets close to a sniff of reality as an oily businessman.

Rated 4 out of 10


The Gunman took a critical pounding on its release at the cinema and its arrival on DVD is equally unwelcome. The film's 'A-list' cast is wasted, with little to do other than look embarrassed, and its attempt to convince the audience that it has a humanitarian conscience isn't just shallow, it leaves a decidedly nasty taste in the mouth. There's little in the way of suspense or excitement and it's all generally predictable, flat, and empty. In other words, way off target.

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