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edge staff writer


Shooting blanks The Gunman'

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There has never been a better time to be an aging action star. We are in a geriatric golden age; whether you're looking at the reinvigorated over-the-top stardom of guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger or the reinvention of guys like Liam Neeson, the silver screen has seen plenty of old guys shooting guns and blowing stuff up.

Apparently, Sean Penn decided he wanted to get in on some of that action despite not necessarily having a good understanding of what makes those movies work. 'The Gunman' is the unfortunate result of that ill-informed decision.

Penn along with Penn's biceps - is James Terrier, a CIA operative embedded in the Congo. His cover work has led him into a tryst with an aid worker named Annie (Jasmine Trinca, 'Saint Laurent'), but just as that relationship is reaching an apex, he and his team are told that their mission is a go.

Said mission turns out to be the assassination of a high-ranking official for some reason (something involving mineral rights or whatever frankly, things had already started going off the rails). Just before carrying out the hit and going off the grid, Terrier asks his mission's civilian liaison Felix (Javier Bardem, 'The Counselor') to look after Annie.

That, of course, went like these sorts of things tend to do in these movies.

Flash-forward eight years and Terrier is back in the Congo, working as a for-real humanitarian this time. He discovers that someone is taking out the members of the team that worked on the assassination, so he starts seeking out his former comrades. The biggest surprise is his discovery that Felix had taken advantage of Terrier's plight and married Annie.

Terrier is left to try and save himself and Annie from mysterious enemies who may eventually prove to be far closer than they expect.

'The Gunman' has plenty of big problems, but one of the biggest is the simple fact that its narrative doesn't really make any sense. The entire story is predicated on supposedly intelligent people making inexplicable decisions for no discernible reason. There might be something there, but it mostly comes off as nonsense dressed up in tired action tropes and assorted banalities. A good performance at the forefront would go a long way toward saving the film.

Sean Penn does not give that performance.

Penn clearly thought that this was the logical next step for his career. His luster has faded significantly in recent years; his most acclaimed work is a decade in the rearview at this point. Making the move into relatively-thoughtful-old-man-action territory is a sensible progression.

Alas, Sean Penn clearly has no idea why these movies work. He's all bulging biceps and utter humorlessness; there's not a speck of the relatable ease and self-awareness that Neeson brings to the table. Frankly, the biceps are a microcosm (or macrocosm seriously, they're huge) for Penn as an actor. He always tries so hard. Every word, every gesture feels so painstakingly selected it always looks like work when Sean Penn is on screen. That sense of grinding it out is antithetical to what makes this kind of movie enjoyable.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast is undeniably talented, but one can't escape the vague feeling that they believe themselves to be a bit too good to be here. Trinca might be talented, but she's little more than set-dressing, existing only because these movies need a female 'lead' to be rescued/avenged. Bardem is mincing and preening without ever being really engaging; he's better than this and it kind of seems like he knows it. Guys like Idris Elba ('No Good Deed'), Ray Winstone ('Noah') and Mark Rylance ('Days and Nights') are here, but they're all just treading water without much to do.

Ultimately, what 'The Gunman' lacks in coherence, it more than makes up for in insincerity. It's such a blatant attempt at reinvention that it's impossible to take seriously. And it (along with its star) REALLY wants you to take it seriously. Sean Penn has tremendous skill as an actor; however, when it comes to that one particular set of skills, he is sorely lacking.

[1 out of 5]


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