There seems to be a spate of aging action heroes returning to the big screen for one (or several) last hurrahs in that same genre. The most entertaining of these must surely be the comedy action film, Red, and its sequel, which returned the likes of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker to the kickarse spy genre in roles appropriate for their age. Even 2013’s fifth instalment of the Die Hard film series breathed new life into an aging story and lead actor.
The Gunman is a very different kettle of fish. The standard story holds no great surprises, and lead actor Sean Penn, now aged in his mid-50s, upstages himself with the body of a gymnast half his age. All stereotypical Hollywood action heroes need to be fit but when the biggest guns are the actor’s biceps, and no amount of destruction can supersede the lead’s ripped physique, you know you’ve got problems.
Director Pierre Morel presents an uneven adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman. Running at almost 2 hours, the action sequences are far apart with a plodding drama kidnapping the narrative. When the action comes, it’s done well and is edge-of-the-seat viewing, but there’s simply not enough to warrant the ‘action’ label.
The plot opens in the Democratic Republic of Congo where sniper Terrier (Penn) successfully assassinates the Minister of Mining. The troubled country is plunged into further despair and Terrier is force to go into hiding. Eight years later, he returns to the country on a humanitarian mission for an NGO, only to find a contract has been put out on him.
The laboured screenplay by Don MacPherson, Pete Travis and Sean Penn spends more time on Terrier’s demons and his investigation that it does on facing the enemy. As the name of the film suggests, retrospectively, it’s about the man, not the situation.
There’s a special element of intrigue when a film is set amongst real events, and The Gunman benefits greatly from this but when it comes down to it, the story is little more than a drama with action rather than the other way around. It suffers from misleading marketing which offers far more than it delivers and even when stripped of the marketing, it shoots itself in the foot.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 5
The Gunman is out now on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital.