ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a team of military contractors are assigned a mission to assassinate the nation’s minister of mines, and it’s Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) that’s been picked to be the designated trigger. After successfully completing the mission he is forced into hiding and officially out of the game.

Or is he?

Eight years later, 2014, Jim is back in the Congo, trying to right the wrongs of his past by working for a relief organization. However, those past sins come back to bite him after he finds himself the target of an assassination plot. Needing to know who’s behind the plot, he reconnects with his old operative partner Felix (Javier Bardem), now a wealthy businessman married to Jim’s old girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), who may or may not know more about Jim’s ordeal than he’s letting on.

Not content with just letting Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington have their fun, Sean Penn had to have his own “Hitman over 50″ film.

Pop quiz, everybody! What happens when you stick two Oscar-winning actors in Sean Penn and Javier Bardem, and two invaluable character actors in Ray Winstone and Idris Elba in a film together?

You get one of the worst films of 2015.

Didn’t see that coming, did ya?

On paper, Sean Penn getting his own action film, with a fantastic supporting cast to back him up, sounds like a great idea. Penn brings an intensity to most any role he takes on, so seeing him in a thrilling, action-packed genre we rarely, if ever, get to see him in could be fun, and there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t be.

Well, that is, if this film wasn’t so booooooooooooooooring.

The trailers for The Gunman not only advertises itself as an action film, it also tricks you into thinking it’s gonna be a showdown between Penn and Javier Bardem, to which I say, sign me up for that. After all, “Badass” by Saliva blasted all throughout the TV promotional spots, so why would it be wrong to assume that Penn’s gonna be a badass?

“You just crossed his path and he’ll drop you fast.”

Well ’cause the film is neither.

Director Pierre Morel (who directed the first Taken) kicks things off by telegraphing everything that’s gonna happen as obviously as he can. Penn’s got the gorgeous girlfriend and Bardem clearly has the hots for her. How do we know this? ‘Cause Morel shoots about a hundred different shots of Bardem either glaring at Penn or staring longingly at Jasmine Trinca. Also, you have to wonder how is it that Congo’s in the midst of going to hell in a handbasket and this group of operatives is just about to assassinate a key national figure, but in the meantime they’re having drinks together like it’s Cheers?


Anyway, after that, it’s fairly obvious that Felix picks Jim to be the triggerman, ’cause that means bye-bye Jimmy, hello Annie for Felix. And despite how blatantly predictable the setup is, Morel actually puts together a suitably-paced, tense assassination scene. Do we really get to know the who, what, where, when and why of the situation? Hell, no, but the scene was crafted skillfully enough to not care either way, and it leads you to believe that something good is in the works. That, and trust me when I say the lack of knowing much of their motive, other than the film’s half-assed geopolitical themes, is gonna be the least of this film’s worries.

The problems with this film all come down to just one simple word: boring. This film moves as slow as backwashed juice in the communion cup that has finally made its way back to the lone unlucky last congregate sitting in the 30th row. The action is minimal, and when there is any, it lacks style and consists only of shootout contests between Penn and his enemies to see who can shoot crappier than a stormtrooper the best.

Not that I need wall-to-wall action here, but what else is there? The characters have no depth and Morel completely wastes the immense talent he has on hand. When Penn isn’t trying to shoot someone, he spends most of the time either moping about the good ole days he and Annie had, or giving Matthew McConaughey a run for his money on how many scenes he can go shirtless. Writers Don MacPherson and Pete Travis wedge in a medical condition for Jim involving severe flashbacks and post-concussion syndrome, but it adds nothing to the story, nor is it really given any attention other than every now and then Penn grabbing his head in pain.

I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry for him then.

Seriously, how the hell do you waste a two-time Oscar winner?

Also along for this two-hour-long punishment are Ray Winstone and Idris Elba in a wasted extended cameo that has him talking in ridiculous cryptic messages revolving around “building tree houses”. It’s Javier Bardem, though, who gets the shit end of the stick. Bardem is phenomenal actor, but he’s, quite frankly, horrible here. Not only is his performance a waste, his character is a waste as well. As I said a few paragraphs back, the trailers deceive you into believe it’s gonna be Penn vs. Bardem, so when Penn reunites with him after the 8 years have gone by, Bardem’s Felix has gone from a military contractor to a wealthy businessman that raises money for developing countries. That could’ve opened up avenues for Bardem to play a very intriguing villain. Those of us that have seen No Country for Old Men and Skyfall know how capable he is at playing intriguing villains. However, once he’s back into the picture with his new line of work, his character and his performance resort to being a loud, annoying drunken idiot. It truly is an embarrassing performance.

Don’t worry, though, ladies. In the spirit of equality, Jasmine Trinca’s Annie is just as stupid as the big boys. Her reason for marrying Felix? Well, it has something to do with him rescuing her and her comparing it to owing a debt (the debt here is marriage) to a fireman that saves you from a fire, and all I can say to that is…

* … Uh – that’s what tax dollars are for.

* … What?!

Between its uninspired narrative and, save the intro assassination scene, lazy action setpieces, The Gunman is a film you’re bound to forget as soon as you fall asleep about halfway through watching it. Director Pierre Morel’s most egregious sin, however, is wasting the gift on a silver platter he’s been given that is his cast, beginning with a miscast Sean Penn who, as great of an actor as he is, just does not fit the bill here as an action star. You know you’re dealing with a pile of crap when you can make Taken 3 look like The Bourne Identity.

I give The Gunman a D (★).

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