Film review: Time for Sean to Penn an apology after The Gunman

Simon Thomson
Sean Penn in full redemption mode in The Gunman

Cert 15 | ★★☆☆☆

There is a sad country called Africa where people live in misery because of evil Western mining companies and military contractors that care only about money. That’s The Gunman’s message, and it’s not shy about hitting you about the head with it. Sean Penn plays a mercenary-turned-aid worker, who discovers he can’t hide from his past. Not even at the bottom of a well – a well he is drilling so that poor helpless Africans won’t have to drink their own filth.
Slow-paced and patronising, The Gunman opens in 2006 with a montage of newscasts laying out the dire situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sean Penn plays Jim Terrier, a punch-drunk assortment of veins and bulges upholstered in wrinkled leather. Terrier belongs to a group of mercenaries who exacerbate the already fraught political situation by assassinating the Minister of Mining.
Eight years later, he’s back in the DRC, trying to make amends with a clean water NGO, but when men arrive to kill him, he realises he needs to go to London and then Barcelona where he spends the rest of the film tediously picking apart a disappointingly linear and obvious conspiracy. And doing a surprisingly small amount of actual fighting.
There’s also a sub-plot in which Euro-sleaze co-conspirator Javier Bardem runs off with Terrier’s former girlfriend and has the temerity to become a successful businessman. This gives Bardem the opportunity to act drunk and passive aggressive, and Penn the chance to snarl “not all of us want to turn our sin into profit.”
Ray Winstone appears as Terrier’s cockney-surfer BFF. Idris Elba’s Interpol officer doesn’t properly arrive until about 80 minutes in, and barely stick around long enough to deliver a vague speech about treehouses that reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of termites, but little else. Mark Rylance seems hopelessly out of place.
For anyone who still hasn’t got the message, after two hours of laboured bludgeoning, the film closes with another newsreader explaining some stuff about multinationals going after resources in the developing world without considering the humanitarian consequences, as if we were incapable of working this out for ourselves.


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