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Movie Night – 'Gunman' leaves 'lukewarm' impression for action film (April 1, 2015 issue)

I’m not a fan of Sean Penn. There, I said it. Search your mind for a successful movie he has starred in for the last ten years and you won’t come up with more than two or three movies. Despite my misgivings, the trailers for “The Gunman” made the move appear interesting despite the fact that Penn is the star of the movie. The best word to describe my impression of the movie would be lukewarm, neither hot nor cold.
Jim Terrier (Penn) is a member of a private security team (mercenaries) operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. Who Terrier and his team were working for was never made entirely clear. The team was posing as security for an airstrip under construction while their real mission was kept hidden. Felix (Javier Bardem) is the team leader, though he isn’t the type to get his hands dirty.
While in Congo Terrier met and fell in love with Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a French humanitarian aid worker. Felix’s romantic intentions toward Annie were thinly veiled, leaving you to wonder how Terrier didn’t know that Felix was in love with her too. Somehow Terrier is blind to Felix’s feelings for Annie.
The action kicks into overdrive when Terrier’s team goes operational. Their task is to assassinate the Minister of Mines for the Democratic Republic of Congo. Terrier and two other shooters are strategically stationed with a sniper rifle ready to take the shot. Only one shooter is to pull the trigger and then disappear, leaving Congo forever. To no one’s surprise, Felix tabs Terrier to be the shooter. Terrier takes the shot and disappears into the wind.
Fast-forward eight years and Terrier has returned to Congo as a true aid worker. He’s helping dig wells and water lines in remote areas of the country. Everything goes wrong when armed men storm a village with the intent of killing only Terrier. Terrier goes on the run, trying to determine why someone wants him dead and discover if there is a connection to the assassination of the Minister of Mines eight years before.
After the success of the “Taken” franchise a new sub-category of movies has popped up: older men trained in the arts of espionage and warfare defying the odds and killing everyone in their path. The first “Taken” was fantastic. The copycat movies since then are not so good. “The Gunman” is an average entry into this field.
“The Gunman” is filled with international intrigue. The movie globetrots from Congo to London to Spain to Gibraltar as Terrier races to find the truth. The movie doesn’t capture the suspense of the cold war but aims more for gritty action. It’s more “Blood Diamond” and less “Mission Impossible.” There are a few references to a political agenda of the filmmakers, but the movie doesn’t hit you over the head with politics. “The Gunman” is more about Terrier’s search for the truth than anything else.
The action is impressive. Several battles, including one at an estate in the remote countryside of Spain, are memorable. The drawback to the action scenes occurring so fast and placed so closely together is that sometimes it’s difficult to know what is happening and, more importantly, why things are happening.
“The Gunman” doesn’t evoke much of a reaction either positively or negatively. I feel no strong antipathy nor any particular affection for the movie or its characters. If you’re hankering for an excuse to head to the theater you could do worse than “The Gunman.” If you want to see a top-notch action thriller, look elsewhere.
Grade: B
Rated R for strong language, violence, and some sexuality.