Skip to main content

I went from killer to cashier. Don't tell anyone.

The Gunman
(2015)

(SPOILERS) What were you thinking, Mr Penn? Particularly since you share co-screenplay credit. The Gunman is about the worst example of pampered Hollywood expressing its social conscience-easing behaviour one could imagine, as Sean’s reformed assassin plotline forms the backdrop for saying some important things about humanitarian aid (good) and big corporations (bad). Which is fine as a message, I’m with you there Sean, but finance a searing documentary about capitalist exploitation would have been a more convincing avenue with which to express yourself, rather than throwing $40m into in this sloppy, third-rate concoction, one that operates more as a bizarre vanity vehicle than anything approaching an indictment of corrupt business practices.


Penn’s Jim Terrier is former special forces, equipped with terrific abs (which he is contractually required to display as much as possible, while chain-smoking; I guess this is understandable if you’re in you’re mid-50s and going through a mid-life crisis) and a reasonable aptitude for surfing. He’s also a kick-ass assassin, posing as an aid relief employee. Following a black-ops venture in the Congo, in which Terrier shoots the Minister of Mining in order to ensure his employer’s contracts are not renegotiated, conflicted Jim drops from the radar. Six years later, he has become a charity worker, digging wells (I shit you not; now you can see why Sean developed the abs; it’s basically a Stallone screenplay, Penn’s Rambo III, if you will). But his former life is catching up with him, and it isn’t long before he’s luxuriating in a glorious bath of ultra-violence. And flashing those abs.


Everything about the screenplay, credited to Penn, Don Macpherson and Pete Travis and based on The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette, is an embarrassment of horrifying clichés and crude punctuation. It’s all the more bizarre that talent like Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Mark Rylance (Mark Rylance!) and Ray Winstone (well, maybe not so much Ray “The Sweeney” Winstone) should appear in this crap. Possibly the persuasive powers of Le Penn.


Presumably he also ensnared poor Jasmine Trinca, whose work I was unfamiliar with but who is essentially required to stand by her man, a morally unconscionable psychopath who doesn’t think twice about his behaviour until he does, even when, or because, he announces “I can’t ask you to forgive me”. When Jim initially absconds, she takes second-best Bardem, artlessly identified as muscling in from the first moment we see him and even more artlessly identified as an imbecilic alcoholic who helpfully gets himself shot when Sean comes back on the scene.


Elba hardly features, but he does sit on a park bench with Jim, imparting some wisdom about when and when not to build a treehouse, and doesn’t want to hang him out to dry, which is incredibly charitable. Rylance, in an entirely pitiful bad guy part telegraphed as such, as every plot point is, is naturally moderately watchable simply because he is Mark Rylance, even when getting shot in the hand. Less so when getting gored by a bull, in a finale of ludicrously poetic and metaphorical proportions (Sean is the put-upon bull, don’t you see? DO YOU NOT SEE?) Winstone meanwhile, plays Ray Winstone, and, to his credit, he does the best Ray Winstone out there.


Jim may have done horrible things, but he’s broken up about it, suffers from PTSD and is full of regrets. Some, but not all, of these things lead to dizziness and vomiting. Most of them lead to bone-crunching or flesh-shredding mayhem as Terrier proves an unstoppable force, dogged even, bringing about peace through extreme measures. A particular highlight sees Jim abruptly punching a friendly neighbourhood mum on the nose, only for her to be revealed as a vicious, hypodermic-wielding hit woman.


Pierre Morel, despite the crushing unsubtlety (a field he has already ploughed with Taken) knows his way around an action sequence, but it’s disappointing to see him stuck with this mess, when a few years back there was a chance of him taking on Dune. In particular, Jim’s bruising battle with Number One Henchman Peter Franzen, actually instils the movie with something approaching urgency for a couple of minutes. He clearly needs a better agent. And Penn needs to get over the idea that he’s the silver screen’s answer to Bono (what with his perma-shades and endless capacity for righting wrongs). The Gunman might have had something to say in conception, but only ends up saying anything about Sean’s ego; when Joel Silver is barred from an editing room and the picture still ends up lousy, it’s the producer-actor-star who warrants the blame.


Popular posts from this blog

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.