If you kill, you will be killed. So just don’t kill. There’s really no point.
After sniping a well-known figure in a foreign country, international operative Jim (Sean Penn) is forced to change his life so that the organization he works for doesn’t have to worry about him getting caught, turning the other cheek, and possibly uncover all sorts of skeletons in their closet. This is a big moment in Jim’s life because he’s now not allowed to stay with his one and only love Annie (Jasmine Trinca), who is now spending time with a co-worker of Jim’s (Javier Bardem). Many years go by and out of nowhere, dangerous people start looking for Jim, declaring that they want revenge for what he did all of those years ago. Thinking that the job he completed was confidential in every which way, Jim is shocked and wants to find out the truth, even if that means going back to his checkered-past and following up with some familiar faces. Some are happy to see him, whereas others aren’t. But for Jim, he doesn’t care; he’s in a race against time where he has to find out who is responsible for all of these problems, get rid of them, and possibly clear his name in the process.
It’s odd to see Sean Penn in something like this. Not because it’s a commercialized, mainstream flick that he too often seems to be against doing too often, but because it’s the kind of commercialized, mainstream flick that seems so done to death by now: The aging-killers subgenre.
No matter how much time passes, Liam Neeson will always be remembered for starting this odd trend, but he sure as hell won’t be the last. Keanu Reeves, Kevin Costner, and heck, even Salma Hayek are all older acts that seem to have gotten all fed-up with pleasing certain people that think they should just move out of the way for the younger-crowd and continue to play mom or dad roles. For the most part, these movies can be hit-or-miss, but there’s no denying that they add some more appeal to the usual action-thriller that seems to be constantly plagued with the Jason Statham’s and Gerard Butler’s of the world. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with those two lads, but one can only see the same person shoot and kill so many people and not really have that formula shaken up one bit.
Which is why, like I was saying before, it’s interesting to see a class-act like Penn, do something like this.
But the real question remains: Does it actually work? Meaning, is he actually any good in the role? Or, is it simply a case of an actor trying something new because he has all of the money no shits given to do so and not worry about losing a little bit as a result? It’s a bit of a two-hander actually – while Penn isn’t bad in the movie, per se, the movie itself leaves a lot to be desired and it makes you wonder just why the hell someone as choosy and picky as Penn would bother with this in the first place.
Granted, he gets a lot to do that calls on him for the large, dramatic-moments. But he also gets to flex his ripped-body that can definitely not be what a nearly 55-year-old naturally looks like, but whatever. Color me impressed, if a little suspicious. Anyway, like I was saying, Penn does a fine job here and allows for this thinly-written character like Jim come off as someone who is easy to root for, even if we aren’t fully sure about his past actions, or how morally correct they were.
But the movie sort of throws Penn into the kind of movie where all he really has to do is deliver exposition, look upset, act frantic, and shoot the eff out of baddies. All of these things Penn does a fine enough job at to where it doesn’t seem like he’s just milking it for the cameras so that he can collect that hefty paycheck of his; it’s more that the movie leaves a lot to be desired for him to do. All of the exposition, tension, and sometimes gory violence, all lead up to a very subpar thriller that I honestly couldn’t tell you what it was all about other than that, “People chased after Sean Penn because he did a bad thing like some eight years ago.”
Other than that, I’m sort of drawing a blank.
Which brings me to the fact that, even though a more recent example of this same subgenre, Run All Night, was a movie more about its action, rather than anything resembling a story (although it definitely had that), it still didn’t grip me quite as well as the Gunman did when it worked. When it doesn’t work, it’s an overly-edited, wordy mess that seems to confuse exposition for “something meaningful”. However, when it does work, it’s kind of fun, but in a slimy, bloody way. Everybody’s sweating; everybody’s cursing; and everybody’s life is at-risk, and that allowed me to just join in on whatever thrill-ride the movie was able to take me on.
Trust me, it didn’t always last, but when it did, I was happy to be along for it all.
And with a movie like this, that’s all it really comes down to – the action is solid and gripping. Sure, you could argue that the movie doesn’t give much of anything to do for Javier Bardem, whose character, when he isn’t trying to bang Penn’s character girlfriend (and not at all being subtle about it), is absolutely, shit-faced drunk, and it sure as hell doesn’t allow for Idris Elba to be more than just a Christopher Walken cameo (even though all of the advertisements would have you think he practically made this movie with his own bare hands), but what’s the point in all of that? The movie tries its hand at being serious a tad too many times, but when it knows that it’s failing at that, it backs off and just lets Sean Penn hoot, holler, and shoot people.
What’s so wrong about enjoying that, people?
Consensus: As a melodramatic thought-piece about what’s really happening on foreign soils, the Gunman trips, falls and embarrasses itself, but eventually realizes this and just gets back to the moments where it’s Sean Penn surfing, smoking and killing people.
5 / 10