The Gunman (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
“The Gunman,” based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel, is a tepid action-thriller, offering absolutely nothing new to the genre with turn of events that are generic and predictable. However, it is elevated—somewhat—by a few well-shot and nicely executed action sequences dispersed throughout its two-hour running time. It offers a tolerable experience but not one that is thrilling, escapist, or exciting.
Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a marksman assigned to assassinate the Minister of Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mission was a success which, as planned, has led to further political unrest, violence, and money for those who have control and power. Eight years later, however, Terrier, while drilling wells in Congo as a part of a humanistic movement, is found by men hired to kill him—this act seemingly directly tied to his final mission. Terrier leaves the country immediately to contact former colleagues who were with him during the night of the assassination.
The film lacking political intrigue is a most dire miscalculation. For instance, instead of us having a chance to learn about the brains and subterfuge behind every movement of a chess piece, we are given a tired subplot involving Terrier and a former girlfriend (Jasmine Tinca). The problem is that Annie is not at all a compelling character. She is supposed to be some kind of doctor in Congo, but we never learn or appreciate what she thinks or feel about the complex political situation unfolding before her.
The screenplay by Don Macpherson, Pete Travis, and Sean Penn does not help in providing substance. Motivations of the characters are very thin so the story does not draw us in such a way that we are invested in the lives of its protagonists. There is almost a pattern established prior to the halfway point: Terrier looking serious, an action scene, a piece of information is revealed to move the plot forward, rinse and repeat.
At least the action sequences provide some sort of entertainment. The hand-to-hand combat between Terrier and a fellow assassin (Peter Franzén) works because both are shown to be very lethal previously. Notice that the editing is highly efficient, almost creating a sort of dance around every punch, stab, and gun shot. I was reminded of the first three “Bourne” pictures, the rawness of two men who are fighting but are also thinking about their next moves, how they might be able to outsmart and ultimately render the opponent lifeless.
Directed by Pierre Morel, “The Gunman” might have been a more engaging film if the adaptation process had focused on providing a more detailed picture of the political mechanics of its backdrop. The first five minutes suggest that we are in for an action-thriller with equivalent levels of brain and brawn. Instead, we get a second cousin of “Taken” with only an eighth of its adrenaline and surprises.