By Chris Nashawaty
Updated March 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Keith Bernstein
  • Movie

Sean Penn doesn’t make movies very often these days. So when he does, you go in with certain expectations. Sadly, it’s best to leave them at the concession stand if you’re planning on enjoying The Gunman. Directed by Pierre Morel, the engineer of Liam Neeson’s macho second act in Taken, the film starts off promisingly high-minded, with a barrage of exposition about how Western corporations have exploited the mineral wealth of the civil-war-torn African nation the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And with the politically active Penn doing double duty as a producer and co-writer, we’re primed for a heady dose of postcolonial guilt with our popcorn. But it doesn’t take long for The Gunman to ditch its noble intentions and spiral into a rote series of chases, shoot-outs, and close-quarters knuckle-scraping brawls. Penn, who appears to be in the best shape of his life at age 54 (despite the cigarette hanging from his lower lip), brings a layer of emotional depth that most actors couldn’t summon playing a former mercenary reckoning with the bloody sins of his past. Too bad all the secondary characters in the film (from Javier Bardem’s dodgy do-gooder to Idris Elba’s Interpol agent, Jasmine Trinca’s love interest, and Mark Rylance’s gravel-voiced villain) feel like they stumbled onto the set from a (better) Bourne flick. And while it’s nice to hopscotch around the globe from one exotic locale to the next, this is the kind of film that can’t be bothered to do any more with its Spanish setting than have a showdown at a bullfight. If Penn wanted The Gunman to be his version of Neeson’s recent black-and-blue period, congrats. But I suspect he was aiming higher and came up short. C+

The Gunman

2015 movie
  • Movie
  • R
  • 115 minutes
  • Pierre Morel