Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Gunman

(Pierre Morel, USA/Spain/UK/France, 2015)

I saw this before Sean Penn's recent media splash occurred, but with that added tweak of perspective, the film makes a bit more sense.  Penn is one of our finest male actors, due in no small part to the immense contradictions that seem to constitute his personality.  A committed humanitarian and generally well-informed political progressive, he has also lived a life plagued with the turbulence of unruly and illicit behavior.  In a word, he's an angry man, who appears to have come to some kind of detente with his rage, part of which might be his admirable efforts in Haiti and elsewhere, and part of which is probably his fine-grained yet volcanic performances on screen.  Without presuming too much about Penn's inner life, I think it's safe to say that the forces that moved him to seek out and interview El Chapo are the same ones that lead him to be so vividly adventurous on-screen.

It's a shame, therefore, that this recent movie, which he stars in and co-wrote, is a plate of generic hash.  The film appears to be at least in part a money grab, following the Taken formula of a gruff, middle-aged guy who becomes and improbable action star.  That's one half of the movie; the other is a self-satisfied tale of corporate malfeasance, trading on liberal guilt.  The amount of time Penn spends showing off his chiseled torso becomes laughably excessive, and the use of the ongoing catastrophe of the Congo feels vulgar.  The filmmakers, among them Penn (who appears to have been the linchpin) tried to pull off some kind of a hat trick: a tense shoot-em-up, a well-informed political statement, and a dark drama about downfall and redemption.  It's effectively none of the three.  Morel is a decent cinematic craftsman, and there are a few action sequences that rise above the mediocre, but there is little else to be said for the film, which finally leaves a taste of high-minded vanity. 

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