The Gunman

Posted on March 19, 2015 at 5:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexuality
Copyright Studio/Canal 2015
Copyright Studio/Canal 2015

Stars too often produce the kind of movie they want to star in, instead of the kind of movie anyone wants to watch. Co-writer/producer/star Sean Penn is clearly trying to make The Gunman a thinking person’s thriller. You can hear the pitch: a serious look at the exploitation and corruption of emerging economies with lots of slammin’ action! And a chase scene/shootout set at a bullfight!

Unfortunately, it fails as both political drama and action movie. The romance isn’t much, either. Its primary interest is in the many opportunities to see how buff Penn has become. If he had applied as much attention to beefing up the script as he did to beefing up his arms and abs (and showing them off in a surfing scene and a shower scene), the movie would have been much more than this week’s AARP action thriller. Instead, he hired Liam Neeson’s “Taken” director to stage a lot of shootouts in various locations. Been there, seen that, it was better.

Penn plays Jimmy, part of a team providing security in 2006 for humanitarian relief workers in the Republic of Congo, where we are informed that corruption and unrest are rampant in “the world’s deadliest conflict since WWII.”

Jimmy is very much in love with a gorgeous doctor with a beatific smile and gloriously tousled curls named Annie (Jasmine Trinca). She is so beautiful and adores him so completely that we know the moment she says, “See you later,” something will intervene. In case we missed that portent, Jimmy says, “I got a feeling we’re going operational.” He and his team have what we will learn is a “parallel contract with the mining interests.” Machete-wielding marauders create terror everywhere. But corporations with huge revenues at stake are sometimes the beneficiaries of unrest, and sometimes the cause of it. Jimmy is soon “into the wind” following assassination of a political leader who was cancelling all existing agreements with corporations extracting valuable minerals.

Eight years later, Jimmy is back helping to dig wells when three killers come after him, and he realizes that the powerful people who hired him to murder to protect their interests may now have decided to hire someone else to protect their interests further by making sure he never tells anyone what he did for them.

There is some potential in the premise, but it is quickly jettisoned for mind-numbing run-with-a-gun shoot-em-up scenes as battalions of Kevlar-vested guys with automatic weapons come after him. Somehow, he always manages to not only run between the bullets but overpower and outsmart the bad guys, even though he is suffering from brain damage and headaches, except when he isn’t.

He visits his former colleagues so that they can either help him out or try to kill him. Meanwhile, Annie serves the retro girlfriend role: unquestioning adoration, taking her clothes off, hiding behind him, and being taken hostage. And Idris Elba is wasted in a small role that primarily consists of a speech about building a treehouse, but at least he gets to talk about something, which is more than you can say about the Africans in the film.  For a movie that is supposed to be politically significant, it’s awfully retro-colonialist.

In the closing credits we are helpfully informed that despite the climactic bullfighting scene, Barcelona no longer allows bullfighting within its jurisdiction. No such disclaimers are made about the various atrocities — political, corporate, or cinematic.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong violence with many characters injured and killed, assorted different weapons, torture, execution and assassination, references to rape, a sexual situation, drinking, smoking, pharmaceuticals, and constant strong language.

Family discussion: How did Jim, Cox, Felix, and Stanley respond differently to the choices they made? What efforts are underway to provide more transparency in the impact that multinational corporations have in emerging economies?

If you like this, try: “Blood Diamond” and “The Constant Gardener”

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Edge of Darkness

Posted on January 28, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence and language
Profanity: Some vary strong language (mostly f-words)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking, cigar
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic and brutal violence including scary surprises, guns, a knife, cars as weapons, dead bodies
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 29, 2010

As he continues to work through personal issues that seem to require expiation through his characters on screen, Mel Gibson, plays a Tom Craven, a Boston cop out for more than justice after his daughter is murdered. His face deeply lined, his hairline receding, just about all of his movie star glamour etched away, he is no more the larger-than-life hero of “Braveheart” and “Mad Max.” He is not a big man; we often see him standing next to bigger ones, contributing to the movie’s claustrophobic feeling. He does not have a big life. He is still in the house he has lived in for decades, with one bottle of good booze covered with dust and one person he cares about, his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). He’s not much good at talking or for interacting with the complexities and ambiguities of the world. Emma teases him, perhaps a bit ruefully, that he doesn’t even know what her job is. But she knows he is safe. And so when she needs help, she comes home.

A couple of hours later, she is killed in a drive-by. The logical conclusion is that the culprit is someone who was after Tom, some bad guy he put away. But the use of logic is the first of many assumptions Tom will have to relinquish to understand what trouble Emma had gotten into and what he must do about it.

The movie is based on a Thatcher/Reagan-era British miniseries, itself perhaps inspired by the 1970’s American cinema of paranoia, lone individual against grand conspiracy movies like “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Parallax View.” This version reverses the nationalities; Yorkshire becomes Boston and the American with a shady past as a spook played by Joe Don Baker becomes a Brit with a cockney accent played by Ray Winstone as Jedburgh, the most compelling character in the film because we do know know why he seems to know everything, whose side he is on, or what he does. “I’m usually the guy who stops you connecting A and B,” he says.

Connecting A and B is what we look for in movies, at least studio movies with big stars, but we are perfectly happy to spend two hours figuring out what that connection is. If the murky intersections of various categories of bad guys makes that connection not entirely unexpected, there are a few good twists along the way. Director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale” and the upcoming “Green Hornet” as well as the original BBC version of this story) keeps the tension taut and the action compelling. There are fine details, a too-smooth executive rolling his gold wedding band through his fingers as he pretends to be concerned, Tom off duty reaching instinctively for a gun that isn’t there. The build-up of Tom’s sense of urgency and the directness of his instincts counterposed with the murkiness of other characters’ motivations works well, too. He literally smashes through walls as he psychically smashes through the boundaries of his profession, of law, and even of rationality itself, ultimately acting on the purest of instinct, as he says, a man with nothing left to lose.

Both Tom and the man who plays him seem intent on expiating some transgression. Gibson is often drawn to roles that involve physical abuse and exposure down to the bone. Here that works well up to the very last scene, where Gibson the man seems to break away from the character with a final image that tells us more about the struggles of the Hollywood actor than the Boston cop and would take us out of the movie if it wasn’t already over.

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