There's a lot of killing going on in The Gunman, but the gore is exceedingly well done
French filmmaker Pierre Morel only has four feature films under his belt as a director (he's been the cinematographer on many more) but they're all rock-solid pieces of entertainment. Following his breakout hit Taken, From Paris With Love was unfairly panned by critics who forgot to take the sticks out of their asses before entering the theater. In his latest film, The Gunman, Morel tones down the action in favor of a more thoughtful and mature exploration of violence and its consequences. It also reinforces that Sean Penn still has the best scream/cry in the business.
Penn stars as Jim Terrier, a mercenary who assassinates the minister of mining in the Congo in 2006. He's just following orders, of course, but the guilt begins to weigh heavily on him, so he hangs up his rifle and starts up a new life doing humanitarian work. His biggest regret is leaving behind Annie (Jasmine Trinca), the only woman on the planet who can turn his black heart to mush. Years later, while helping dig wells in the Congo, he finds himself the target of a hit squad. In order to find out who wants him dead and why, Jim hops around Europe calling on old colleagues, including Felix (Javier Bardem), who married Annie when Jim went into hiding. Awkward!
Other cast members include an underused Idris Elba and the almighty Ray Winstone, who always brings a polished grittiness to his roles. Penn just drips with regret and pain throughout the film. Jim's lived a violent life and Penn wraps his entire role in that heavy remorse – physically and mentally. He absolutely kills it with conviction in The Gunman. He's at that tough, middle-aged phase of his career, and I'm perfectly fine with that.
Speaking of killing, there is a lot of it in Morel's film, but unlike in his previous work the stakes always feel real. The violence is wicked visceral, with some astonishing sound mixing – each punch and every gunshot just batters the audiences' senses. Morel displays a great sense of how to get the most impact out of his action scenes.
Morel keeps the tone tightly wound as Jim uncovers conspiracy on top of conspiracy. There's a political subplot concerning Western commercial interests in African nations that never really comes to fruition, however, and threatens to drag the film down at times. Ultimately, though, The Gunman is a thoroughly entertaining and intelligent mercenary tale with an excellent cast and a palpable approach to its violence. It's very much worth the price of admission.