The Gunman (2 stars)

The Gunman

Clumsy thriller which reinvents Sean Penn as an action star

Sean Penn is not an actor known for vanity projects. But there’s no other way to describe this risible thriller, produced by the man himself. Directed by Pierre Morel, who gave Liam Neeson a career injection as an ageing action star in Taken, it would seem Penn wants a piece of that lucrative pie; he plays Jim Terrier, an assassin who undertakes a political hit in the Democratic Republic of Congo and comes to regret it.

With a cast that includes Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance, it’s hard to envisage what could go wrong, but everything does. Set several years after the aforementioned assassination, those behind the hit want to clean house; Terrier becomes a target, forcing him to track down his old allies to find out who wants him dead. Yet from Winstone’s geezer Stanley to Bardem’s laughably over-the-top businessman Felix, the script is soggy with cliché.

The action isn’t all that special either and, though Penn acquits himself well enough in these scenes, he lacks the seasoned menace that Neeson brings to his 'geriaction' roles. He makes up for it by frequently taking his top off, just to add spice to the love scenes with Jasmine Trinca, who plays Terrier’s ex Annie, who has since hooked up with Felix. While this triangle is meant to give the film some emotional pull, it’s merely another stick to beat it with.

This doesn’t even cover Rylance, playing Cox, another shady character from Terrier’s past. The triple Tony-winner (recently seen in TV's Wolf Hall) may be one of the greatest theatrical actors on the planet, but he looks lost here, with a script that feeds him scraps. The European settings (London, Barcelona, Gibraltar) suggest the filmmakers had hopes for a Bourne-style adventure, but such trailblazing feels way beyond this. It's crass, clumsy and sometimes shockingly bad.

General release from Fri 20 Mar.

The Gunman | Official International Trailer

The Gunman

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • Spain / UK / France
  • 1h 55min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Pierre Morel
  • Cast: Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem
  • UK release: 20 March 2015

Jim Terrier (Penn) is a hired assassin who undertakes a political hit; years later he becomes a target, and must find who wants him dead. Risible thriller with a clichéd script that wastes good actors (Bardem, Rylance, Penn himself) in a clumsy attempt to reinvent its star and producer as an action hero.