With the release of “The Gunman” Sean Penn joins the ranks of middle-aged actors looking to Neesonate their careers. Liam Neeson famously made the leap into action movies later in life, a move that has revitalized his career and generated millions of box office bucks.
Penn, fresh from the gym and frequently shirtless, plays Special Forces military contractor Jim Terrier who protects foreign workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo by day and sidelines as a hired gunman for big corporations by night. His he assassination of the Congolese Mining Minister (Clive Curtis) forces him to leave the country, his job and girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) behind. Eight years later he’s back in Africa. This time around instead of killing people he’s trying to do some good but three armed killers determined to do him in throw his humanitarian mission off track. His past has caught up to him and if he is to survive he has to return to his old ways.
Thrillers don’t get much more generic than “The Gunman.” It has all the elements of “Bourne Identity” or “Taken.” There are exotic locations, guns galore and loads of handheld camera, what’s missing is the thrills. Despite suitably menacing performances from heavyweights like Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem (despite his Foster Brooks drunk routine), Idris Elba and Mark Rylance everything is so by-the-numbers it’s as if the script (based on the 1981 novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette) was written to pay homage to older, better thrillers rather than offering up anything new.
Sloppily written—the “mess with the bull and you’ll get the horn” bull fighting climax takes place in present day in Catalonia even though they banned the sports years ago—with clunky dialogue and loose ends galore—what happens to Annie’s adopted baby?—“The Gunman” is unlikely to give Penn the necessary Neesonudge to reinvent his career.