The Gunman

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

The Gunman

There’s a certain kind of action movie that likes to think it’s about more than just shooting bad guys and blowing up stuff. You can tell when you’re watching one of these films, because they’re almost always set in Africa, home of loads of gun-toting henchman that movie stars can kill while feeling bad that colonialism has made large swathes of the continent the perfect place to stage an action movie – and so it turns out to be in The Gunman.
Terrier (Sean Penn) is part of a security team in the Congo in the mid-noughties, with a health worker girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca) and an aid worker buddy (Javier Bardem) who has a not-so-secret crush on her. Problem is, the two guys are really part of a corporate hit squad, and when Terrier is ordered to pull the trigger on the Congo’s mining minister (who poses a threat to Western mining interests), he also has to leave the country – and his girlfriend. Fast forward to now and Terrier is back in Africa working with an aid organisation for real, but when a hit squad comes looking for him he’s forced to dig up his past in the hope of finding out who wants him dead before they get their wish.
The frequently shirtless Penn certainly has muscled up enough to be a credible threat, and a subplot involving a long-term injury (the result of being too close to too many explosions) provides some reasonable moments of weakness for his enemies to exploit. So taken purely as a thriller this gets the job done – thanks largely to some efficiently brutal action sequences. But the occasional nods towards geopolitical and commercial realities rarely give this the depth it’s reaching for, and the characters – Terrier included – rarely display even a second dimension. It’s dumb fun that wants to be smart… at least, it does until it dispatches a bad guy via stampeding bull. Once you’ve sunk to that level, then all bets are off.