The Gunman review

Dead man walking...

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A genuine disappointment, given the talent involved, and a rare misstep for Penn, who can’t save this moribund vanity project from flatlining.

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Dead man walking...

Director Pierre Morel successfully turned one ageing actor into an action star with the original Taken. But lightning hasn’t struck twice with The Gunman, a leaden-footed conspiracy thriller starring Sean Penn. The 54-year-old double Oscar winner may well have sculpted a decent six-pack to play ex-special forces government contractor Jim Terrier, but on this evidence, he won’t be troubling Jason Statham anytime soon.

We open in the Congo. Terrier is a hired gun, paid to kill a local politician. Years later he’s trying to atone for his past, working for an NGO in Africa, when there’s an attempt on his life. Who and why? The trail leads to London – where he hooks up with his old mucka Stanley (Ray Winstone) – and then to Barcelona, where further ghosts reside in the shape of Javier Bardem’s businessman Felix and his wife Annie (Jasmine Trinca).

Bardem’s OTT performances in Skyfall and The Counsellor worked a treat, but here, he’s an embarrassment – but probably no worse than Mark Rylance, who plays Cox, another shady former colleague of Terrier’s. Arguably the greatest theatre actor of his generation, his amateurish turn lacks both conviction and character.

Only Trinca and Idris Elba, in a tiny role as an Interpol agent, emerge with credibility. Co-written by Penn, the film is never sure if it’s a political drama or an action movie; in the end it’s neither. Lacking authenticity or atmosphere, the by-the-numbers fight scenes are a real shame. Penn handles himself well enough, but there’s nothing here to raise the pulse. As for the bullfight finale, the less said the better.

More info

Theatrical release20 March 2015
DirectorPierre Morel
Starring"Sean Penn","Javier Bardem","Mark Rylance","Ray Winstone","Idris Elba","Jasmine Trinca"
Available platformsMovie
Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.