Film Review: The Gunman

Sean Penn, pissed off about something-or-other, per usual, in The Gunman (Image © Open Road Films) 

Sean Penn, pissed off about something-or-other, per usual, in The Gunman (Image © Open Road Films) 

As I've stated before, it is much easier to review a film if you love it or hate it. Those two extremes allow a greater range of emotion than when trying to tell someone about a film that you feel ambivalent towards. With that being said, here's what I thought about The Gunman.

Released with little fanfare, The Gunman dropped in theaters on Friday and nobody noticed or cared. There were only a dozen of us in the room for a 330 showing on Saturday afternoon (in comparison, it looked like Insurgent was absolutely packed next door). The film was actually showing in a theater usually reserved for small releases and movies that have already been out for six weeks. Hell, not only was I the only person there until just five minutes before show time, an older couple came in, looked around and actually asked me if they were in the right place. Sadly, they were.

The film starts off in 2006 Congo, with Terrier (Sean Penn) as a member of a small team hired by mining interests. It's not quite clear exactly who he works for, except that Felix (Javier Bardem) is the team's intermediary. Terrier seems pretty happy working with his fellow mercenaries and even happier when he gets to suck face with Annie (Jesmine Trinca), who is basically a Doctor Without Borders trying to help people suffering amidst the violence.

Since things are going great, Terrier is tasked to do a nasty bit of work that forces him to leave the continent. This means he has to abandon the love of his life and lay low for awhile.

Once the back story is set we jump to eight years later where he is back in Congo with an international relief agency, helping to bring fresh water to local villages. Everything seems to be going okay for him in this new life until several armed men try to kill him. Being ex-Special Forces (of course) and a very paranoid man (also of course) he immediately smells something fishy and returns to Europe to hunt down his old co-workers and figure out who is trying to kill him and why.

What follows is the most predictable thriller I have seen in years. Every single plot development is predictable and even the 'twists' can be seen a mile away. Nothing here is surprising, not even the surprises.

Terry is given a handicap of sorts via a serious ailment, but it never feels important. Felix has ulterior motives that you figure out roughly six seconds into his first onscreen appearance. Additionally, all the advertisements touting that Idris Elba is in this film are made of LIES. For those of you who wanted to see it specifically because of him (because let's all admit it, he is awesome) save yourselves the money. He gets about four minutes of screen time.

All of this disappoints me because the acting is pretty damn good. I may not like Sean Penn as a human being, but he does a fantastic job here. A few times in the film he manages to project more emotion with a look than some actors can do in an entire scene. Bardem is fun to watch even if you know exactly what he is going to do and say. Trinca does a lot with very little. It just stinks that The Gunman itself is a virtual paint-by-numbers movie. Despite the R-rating it still feels incredibly watered down and almost boring at times.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this movie be seen in theaters. Maybe when it comes out on HBO or Redbox, but no sooner.