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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

The guy practically lives in a Clue board.

Knives Out (2019)
(SPOILERS) “If Agatha Christie were writing today, she’d have a character who’s an Internet troll.” There’s a slew of ifs and buts in that assertion, but it tells you a lot about where Rian Johnson is coming from with Knives Out. As in, Christie might – I mean, who can really say? – but it’s fair to suggest she wouldn’t be angling her material the way Johnson does, who for all his pronouncement that “This isn’t a message movie” is very clearly making one. He probably warrants a hesitant pass on that statement, though, to the extent that Knives Out’s commentary doesn’t ultimately overpower the whodunnit side of the plot. On the other hand, when Daniel Craig’s eccentrically accented sleuth Benoit Blanc is asked “You’re not much of a detective, are you?” the only fair response is vigorous agreement.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

Do forgive me for butting in, but I have a bet with my daughter that you are Hercules Porridge, the famous French sleuth.

Death on the Nile (1978)
(SPOILERS) Peak movie Poirot, as the peerless Peter Ustinov takes over duties from Albert Finney, who variously was unavailable for Death on the Nile, didn’t want to repeat himself or didn’t fancy suffering through all that make up in the desert heat. Ustinov, like Rutherford, is never the professional Christie fan’s favourite incarnation, but he’s surely the most approachable and engaging. Because, well, he’s Peter Ustinov. And if some of his later appearances were of the budget-conscious, TV movie variety (or of the Michael Winner variety), here we get to luxuriate in a sumptuously cast, glossy extravaganza.

I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
(SPOILERS) Was Joe Eszterhas a big fan of Witness for the Prosecution? He was surely a big fan of any courtroom drama turning on a “Did the accused actually do it?” only for it to turn out they did, since he repeatedly used it as a template. Interviewed about his Agatha Christie adaptation (of the 1925 play), writer-director Billy Wilder said of the author that “She constructs like an angel, but her language is flat; no dialogue, no people”. It’s not an uncommon charge, one her devotees may take issue with, that her characters are mere pieces to be moved around a chess board, rather than offering any emotional or empathetic interest to the viewer. It’s curious then that, while Wilder is able to remedy the people and dialogue, doing so rather draws attention to a plot that, on this occasion, turns on a rather too daft ruse.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993)
(SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Of course, one m…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…