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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