Sean Penn’s new film The Gunman could well serve as an audition tape for the two-time Oscar-winning actor to merit a role in the next Expendables movie. At 54, Penn appears to be in the best shape of his life, frequently taking his shirt off to reveal bulked-up pecs and abs, and getting down and dirty in bare-knuckle brawls, relentless shootouts, and breathless chases. Too bad the film itself is a laughable thriller, so predictable and soaked in clichés that it fails to deliver even the novelty and the visceral kick of a film like Taken, whose very director Pierre Morel was hired possibly to duplicate that blueprint.
Penn plays Jim Terrier, a reformed mercenary, wracked by guilt over his role in the assassination of an idealistic politician in the Democratic Republic of Congo almost a decade ago. When the organization that ordered the hit decides to eliminate him, Jim goes on the run, killing lots of people in self-defense, all the while trying to protect the woman (Jasmine Trinca) who used to be his lover. Along for the ride – but with precious little expected of them – are Ray Winstone, playing a former comrade, Javier Bardem as a dodgy businessman, and Idris Elba as an Interpol agent.
The film’s attempt to blend social conscience with a revenge-themed plot feels muddled and hypocritical, leaving you with little to appreciate beyond Penn’s impressive fighting skills. The script takes our protagonist across the globe – from Africa to London to Barcelona to Gibraltar – but this is no smart Bourne-style adventure. Penn performs his action-hero duties well, but he gives us an angsty, permanently sullen hero that’s hard to root for.
I’m going with a generous two out of five for The Gunman. Sean Penn deserves better than this. So do we.