The Gunman stars Sean Penn in the lead role as action man Jim Terrier. He’s one of a number of men, involved in an operation far away, where they all did very bad things that they were bound to regret later in life, partly because it plays on their minds, but mostly because they end up getting bumped off one by one.
A bit of backstory however, as way down deep in the middle of the Congo, a hippo took an apricot, a guava and a mango. He stuck it with the others, and he danced a dainty tango. The rhino said, “I know, we’ll call it Um Bongo!”.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with that drink from the ’80s, Um Bongo is a beverage and they drink it in the Congo. It’s blended in the following way: The python picked the passion fruit, the marmoset the mandarin, the parrot painted packets, that the whole caboodle landed in. So when it comes to sun and fun and goodness in the jungle, They all prefer the sunny funny one they call Um Bongo!
But no-one’s drinking Um Bongo in this film. In fact, it’s usually whisky. And in the Democratic Republic, there’s a bad guy who needs to be offed. Who’s the man to do it? Step forward our lead actor. Then, after doing a bunk for his own safety, we rejoin his life eight years later, having left behind his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca in the token crying-and-screaming-and-doing-nothing-else-girlfriend role) and best friend Felix (Javier Bardem), who both later hook up together which makes you wonder – was Felix so unable to find his own girlfriend that he has to make do with Jim’s sloppy seconds?
He ends up reconnecting with his old friends because he learns that out of the three men who were geared up to take the shot in the first scene, him being the selected one, the other two have since been taken out (off camera – booooo!) and now his life is on the line, so the stage is set for a stack of double-crossing and never knowing who you can trust.
However, why worry about trust when you can simply use your fists? Penn is impossibly beefed up in this film, and spends half the film with his shirt off in order to prove it. But then if you’re looking for a straight-forward and fun action film, The Gunman is the current one to go for. It’s great to see Penn in a lead role again, and it makes you think – why should Liam Neeson have all the fun in an action film like this? Sean Penn equips himself perfectly well, and I enjoyed it to the point that I’d like to have a sequel about the intervening years, perhaps meeting up with the then-present day, so it all crosses over.
Okay, so, like I’ve got across, you’re not watching this expecting Shakespeare, and if I had to change things, the first thing would be the name “Jim Terrier”. Terriers are little yappy dogs, so how about Jim Pitbull? Or, as he hops from location to location, Jim Littlest-Hobo? Nah, maybe not.
So, he starts off in the Congo, takes his shirt off, builds a gun, punches some people, kills some people; then he goes to London, where he takes his shirt off, doesn’t build a gun, but still punches some people in the face when he goes to meet Stanley (Ray Winstone) in a pub. Winstone plays against type by being a gruff-sounding Cockney and they talk in very hushed gravel-voiced tones, despite the fact they’d need to shout in order to hear themselves think while the rest of the customers are watching a football match on TV.
And then he goes to Barcelona, where he takes his shirt off, puts another gun together, punches some people, kills some people, and also finds time to visit Gibraltar… but it’s actually Barcelona doubling for Gibraltar. And he takes his shirt off, punches some people, and kills some other people.
Somehow, they all nip back to Barcelona onscreen – without telling us by way of the usual caption – which you can tell because of the bullfighting… unless that also goes on in Gibraltar. I don’t know, to be honest. We could’ve done with the film pausing at that point and then Judith Chalmers popping up to tell us the state of play in that country.
Oh, and Idris Elba also pops up as… well, his character name doesn’t really matter since he just plays it like John Luther in BBC’s Luther, which is by no means a bad thing, but I just envisaged him playing Luther and left it at that.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the film including my favourite moment!
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.