Sean Penn gets physical with ‘Taken’ director

Sean Penn gets physical with ‘Taken’ director

‘The Gunman’

Starring: Sean Penn, Javier Bardem

Directed by: Pierre Morel

Rated: R


Sins of the past are revisited in this so-so politically charged thriller starring Sean Penn and a host of other international stars including Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance. But the star power can’t overcome a script that lacks logic and is rife with cliché.

Penn, who also shares writing credits on the movie with Don McPherson, Pete Travis and Jean-Patrick Manchette (the author of the novel this is based on), stars as Terrier, a for-hire assassin who once worked for a private unnamed mercenary company. Eight years ago, he was the triggerman on a team hired to kill the minister of mines in the Congo.

Afterward, Terrier had to leave the country immediately, which meant also leaving girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca) behind. And he never looked back. Jump to present day and he’s into atoning for his crimes by working with an NGO to build wells in Africa until a team of assassins tries to kill him. Terrier fears his past has finally caught up with him.

This globetrotting action piece from the very capable Pierre Morel should surprise no one for its similarity to Taken, another picture from the director. The action is up close, brutal and plentiful for those who like to hear bones crunch. Terrier barely gets out of his apartment before running into 10 men sent to kill him — and they just keep coming.

He turns to an old friend, Stanley (Winstone), who confirms that it must be a member of his former team, which could be either Felix (Bardem) or Cox (Rylance), who are both now successful businessmen with political ties. Someone is cleaning house, and Terrier just has to figure out who it is. The problem is the script is so lame that it’s obvious who it is. Complicating things is the fact that Felix is now married to Annie, and when Terrier pays him a visit in Barcelona and learns this, it gets even more complicated.

There are enough political jabs at the current situation in Africa to guess why this material appealed to Penn, but this is not his best movie. For a trained special ops assassin, he makes some really dumb mistakes, like giving out the address of his safe house. Duh. That’s a big no-no in the dummy’s guide to spy craft. Rule No. 2 in that book would have to be don’t willingly go into places with bad people if you don’t have an exit plan. Yet Terrier just doesn’t learn his lesson the first few times.

Considering how Morel helped Liam Neeson re-invent himself as an action star to be taken seriously with Taken, the conclusion could be drawn that maybe Penn is looking for the same lightning in a bottle. In this, he’s in shape, showing off his guns and six-pack in a surfing scene and, actually, a lot of other places in the movie, so that bolsters the theory. This is also the most physically taxing movie of Penn’s recent pictures. But what really does this in is the cheesy dialog mostly between Terrier and Annie. I winced. I cringed. And like those bad guys, it just kept coming. It’s hard to take this killer of men seriously when he whines something as trite as, “I think about you every day. I never stopped loving you.”

Man up, mister. There are more bad guys waiting around the next corner.

One of Morel’s signatures is the way his incorporates some of Europe’s most beautiful cities into the action. And just as other directors such as Woody Allen and Whit Stillman have, he uses the colorful, vibrant appeal of Barcelona as a scenic backdrop. The only difference is Morel uses it to stage some jaw-dropping action sequences that include car and foot chases and lots of gunfire.

This is really the best thing about The Gunman. Not the guy himself, but where the action takes him.