Friday, March 20, 2015

The Gunman

THE GUNMAN: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba, directed by Pierre Morel (115 min.)

Maybe it's the lowered expectations I had going in, or maybe I have become so starved in these early months of 2015 for a halfway decent film, but I found myself gradually buying into The Gunman. While the film has nothing new to offer in really any way, something about it works. Some of the time. It's a fight to praise the film, yes, but the performances seem to keep the film above water, a film that has a painfully predictable screenplay and hits all the proper notes of action formula. But it is March, and for March you can do much worse.

Sean Penn bulks up and goes shirtless an awkward amount of time to play Jim Terrier, a mercenary for hire in the opening scenes of The Gunman. Jim is working to protect humanitarian workers in the Congo, including his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), but he is also working a parallel contract that involves the assassination of a government official. When Jim pulls off the assassination he must flee the continent, leaving his girlfriend in the care of Felix (Javier Bardem), a jealous civilian worker who obviously played a hand in Jim's departure. The assassination also happens to send the Congo into a tailspin.

Fast forward eight years and Jim, still haunted by his actions, has returned to the Congo to do some humanitarian work. Almost immediately an attempt is made on his life, and he returns to London to try and figure out who is responsible and why. This is where the film falls into its painfully recycled formula, with double crosses and globetrotting to luxurious locales including London and Barcelona, among others. There is also the trusted "guy who knows everything about the seedy underground" who gives Penn all the information he (and the audience) needs, played by Ray Winstone. There are a few things the story tries desperately to do to freshen up the static storyline, including Jim suffering from brain trauma that cripples him and may even kill him, and a love triangle between Jim, Jasmine, and Felix.

Felix is married to Jasmine in the present, in a marriage of convenience, and Bardem lights up the screen in his small role. Felix had some profit to gain from the assassination, and has since become a drunk living in the Spanish countryside. Bardem shines like a beacon in the background of formula, but once he exits the proceeding the film struggles to stay afloat.

The action scenes in The Gunman are creative enough to hold interest, and a shootout near the midway point involving a fire in a bathroom feels decidedly fresh. There is also a showdown near the end of the film that I found myself quite involved in, because Penn's character doesn't feel like a superhero. He is vulnerable just enough to make him interesting. Some complain the film doesn't have enough action, but it sure felt like there was plenty to me. The relationship between Jim and Jasmine, however, is a mighty struggle. The film grinds to a halt when these two exchange platitudes seemingly pulled from every other movie ever written. "I thought about you every second," Jim tells Jasmine in his apology. Yawn.

Which leads me to the screenplay, the real problem here. While there were a few good ideas scattered throughout, and director Pierre Morel made the best of his beautiful locations (the climax at a bullfight in Barcelona is especially nice looking), the screenplay absolutely crushes any hopes the film had of being memorable. From the outset, and I mean the very first few seconds, everything that was to come could be easily figured out by anyone whose seen more than a dozen or so action films.

Without Sean Penn's devotion and physical dedication to the role, and the wily turn from Javier Bardem, The Gunman would be absolutely dead in the water. It is a real effort to praise the film, but something about it worked on a simplistic level, enough to where I can't absolutely deny the film's existence. I recommend it for anyone who wants to get away for two hours, but just barely.