Screened Out – The Gunman

By : Stephen Miller
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Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca

Perhaps the only reasons to see this are Penn’s guns – not the ones he shoots, his biceps. The 54-year-old is ripped. And Taken director Pierre Morel spends a lot of time with Penn shirtless or sleeveless to show off the artillery.

Honestly, we’ve come to expect more engaging, troubling and intelligent stuff from this actor – Mystic River, Milk, and Dead Man Walking. Since he’s so particular about picking his projects these days, the mercenary thriller The Gunman is shocking in how uninspired it is. Penn even produced and helped write the script. Though it’s not the worst film ever made, there’s not much to suggest it.

Penn is a hired assassin hiding out in the Congo, protecting a mining company’s assets. He’s dating a beautiful woman (Trinca) – 21 years younger – who is working a nongovernment organization (NGO). When the call comes in, Penn performs the hit and abandons his girlfriend to the rebels and Spanish paramour, coworker Bardem.

Idris Elba is woefully under-utilized.

Idris Elba is woefully under-utilized.

Are things going to go badly? Did I mention that the director’s other big film is Taken? In fact, this feels like Liam Neeson territory…and the lesser quality stuff at that.

Eight years later, Penn is back in the Congo drilling wells, trying to make amends for his earlier slaughter. Trinca has abandoned NGOs and married Bardem, settling in glorious Barcelona. Then, someone tries to kill Penn, and he’s sure it’s because of his earlier work. Maybe it’s because Penn kept written and camera records of everything, something his employers never thought to stop at the time.

There are also a few other plot holes at this point. Why wasn’t Bardem also targeted? Why don’t people trap and torture Penn when they get the chance?

The answer seems to be so that the film can travel to London and Barcelona. Unfortunately, nothing original is done with either setting. Bardem and Trinca, of course, live in a famous art nouveau building, presumably so that Morel can shoot their scenes through the pretty windows. Then everything devolves into a bullfight ring – everything being previously set up for this heavy-handed metaphor.

Penn also has a medical condition that comes and goes as is needed in the plot.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Did I mention that Elba is in this? They say there are no small parts, just small actors. I would use this as evidence that Elba is a big actor in a miniscule part. Bardem is possibly another proof of this.

The fight scenes and the shootouts are okay. Rich little accents – like antique cars, well appointed rooms, and expensive real estate – show up, as they are wont to do in these flicks. There’s romance, but it’s so cliché that it makes us wince. (NGO worker Trinca doesn’t seem to have any problem loving murderers.) Really, everything else is so rote, so common, that even the thrilling parts are a little ho-hum.

Penn gets to put in a few political jabs about capitalism and vaunt his favored NGOs. And then he gets to show off those biceps. Neither of those are enough reason to recommend the film. The Gunman is shooting blanks.

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