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Film review: Sean Penn flexes his muscles in The Gunman

In spite of its human rights background story, The Gunman unspools as little more than a by-the-numbers action thriller with characters who are racial stereotypes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 August, 2015, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2015, 10:58am

In spite of its human rights background story and the presence of actor Sean Penn, The Gunman unspools as little more than a by-the-numbers action thriller.

There’s a batch of racial stereotypes, including a chirpy cockney (played by Ray Winstone) and a Latin lover (Javier Bardem), and all the usual plot reversals and revelations, but the action scenes are extremely well staged, even if the situations become more and more unlikely.

Penn plays Terrier, a mercenary posing as a bodyguard for a human rights organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After Terrier assassinates a government minister, he’s forced to flee the country, leaving the love of his life, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), in the arms of his Spanish colleague Felix (Bardem).

Nine years later, Terrier is back in the Congo, working for an NGO to assuage the guilt he feels for causing political chaos there. When he’s attacked by  paramilitary thugs, he seeks out his former colleagues – and Annie – to find out who’s trying to kill him.

Penn, who doesn’t usually make action films, relishes the chance to kick butt, flex his muscles, and fire a mind-bogglingly large array of guns. He’s typically intense here, delivering the necessary goods as a tough guy.

A couple of early scenes directly reference Martin Sheen’s introspective, self-destructive scene in  Apocalypse Now, but The Gunman quickly ditches psychology for noisy action. The main flaw is that we’re asked to root for a mercenary with a lot of blood on his hands, but there’s really no reason to care if he lives or dies.

The Gunman opens on September 3