The Gunman review: Sean Penn tries to be Liam Neeson in Taken, ends up being failed Arnold Schwarzenegger

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Mar 27, 2015 16:18:13 IST

It’s bad enough that there is a Liam Neeson film that borrows heavily from Taken in theaters this week, but as if that wasn’t enough, this week’s other release is a film that also borrows heavily from Taken. Only this one doesn’t star Neeson. Titled The Gunman, it has Sean Penn trying to pull off a Liam Neeson – that is, attempting to restore Hollywood sheen and glory to his ageing self through a generic action movie.

In The Gunman, Penn wields an arsenal of weapons, is at the center of a deception and on the run with a damsel in distress. He puts in a bit more effort than Neeson physically – he’s buff. Unfortunately, the muscles in his torso only make you notice how totally inert his facial muscles are. Director Pierre Morel who made the first Taken movie (surprise!) expands his vision a bit and sets the film, for no reason, in various locales like Africa, London, Spain and a host of European cities.

Penn plays Jim Terrier, a black ops personnel stationed in Congo, who covertly takes out an influential mining politico and is gifted with a new name and life. Terrier honors his agency’s agreement and moves away, losing his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) in the process. Eight years later, a rash of murder attempts plague him and Jim realizes that those connected with the assassinated politico have discovered his identity and will stop at nothing to exact revenge. Now Jim must retrace his steps and connect with a host of his old pals, including Felix (Javier Bardem), who is mysteriously married to Annie.

 The Gunman review: Sean Penn tries to be Liam Neeson in Taken, ends up being failed Arnold Schwarzenegger

Courtesy: Facebook, The Gunman page.

Morel does a good job of establishing some intrigue in the story, like he did in the original Taken, the original Transporter and also in District 13. Double crossing, exotic locales, international conspiracy, spies and ammunition – it looks cool at the onset. The gunplay in the movie sounds terrific. Every bullet sounds as if it’s ripping into its target.

Unfortunately the direction is offset by a truly terrible script, co-written by Penn himself. There is not a single character or plot point in the movie that makes any sense. Big names like Ray Winstone and Idris Elba show up for a scene each, blabber a little about working covertly and leave the film. The identity of the villain becomes clear in the first half hour, but is frustratingly hidden until the end of the film. You wonder how our hero, an intelligence expert, cannot figure out something so simple that the audience can figure it out within minutes. The love story shoehorned into the narrative serves only as a pompous attempt at making this a vanity project for Penn, who is under the delusion that he can be an action-romance-lead star.

The film also commits the massive mistake of making the hero larger than life, while still trying to humanize him. A lot of times, the baddies show up behind the hero’s back with machine guns and still miss their target. The hero, on the other hand, has a five by five, sureshot kill count. The shootouts feel like you’re watching someone else play a mediocre video game. There’s also a bizarre attempt at establishing some geopolitical commentary about white Americans helping poor farmers of Africa, which sticks out like a sore thumb and makes the Penn vanity project feel all the more ostentatious. In some ways, The Gunman feels a lot like the Schwarzenegger film Collateral Damage – minus the guilty pleasures of that movie and plus a ton of pacing issues.

Trinca is a trainwreck of a love interest in the film. She fumbles around, tugs tightly at the hero, does silly things and negates all the goodwill of the brave and independent females depicted in modern Hollywood. Nor is there any chemistry between her and Penn to justify Jim’s need to protect her.

Despite having a mere three scenes in The Gunman, Bardem is the only one in the film who brings some personality to the movie. He plays a swaying drunk, who always holds a glass full of delicious pain-relieving liquid. If you find yourself watching this film, you’d certainly need some of that stuff from his glass.

Updated Date: Mar 27, 2015 16:52:10 IST