Sean Penn stars as a former Special Forces soldier and military contractor suffering from PTSD. He tries to reconnect with his long time love, but first must go on the run from London to Barcelona and across Europe in order to clear his name. The film also stars Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Jasmine Trinca.
'The Gunman' stars Sean Penn as Jim Terrier, a black ops assassin living in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On the surface, Jim runs security for a multi-national mining conglomerate with friends Cox and Felix (Javier Bardem). Jim's even got a girlfriend named Annie (Jasmine Trinca) who works for a humanitarian health organization as a doctor, operating on victims of civil war.
As the film opens, there's a bit of a love triangle between Jim, Annie, and Felix, but Felix is the odd man out. Then the call comes; Jim's team is to assassinate a local politician who is a threat to the mining company. The catch: of the three possible shooters for this mission, only one will take the shot. Only one will have to disappear. So when Felix selects Jim to be the shooter, to be the one who has to exfiltrate himself off the continent and out of Annie's life, we begin to wonder if Felix has done so to make his move on Annie.
The assassination goes as planned, but fans the flames of the DRC's civil war. Eight years later, we find Jim back back in the DRC, now retired and actually (for reals) working for a humanitarian organization. It seems that, even though he's lost Annie, he is following in her footsteps. But then a bunch of war lord looking baddies come to kill The White Man. Jim dispatches these villains with ease and flees the country, instantly knowing the price on his head related to the assassination he did eight years prior.
In order to save his life, Jim needs to figure out who wants him dead, which means tracking down the only men who knew he pulled that trigger. Felix is, of course, one of these men, and now he's Annie's husband. From there, the film evolves into a mix of chases and hunts, of facing ones past, and kicking a lot of ass.
I read a lot of negative critical responses to 'The Gunman', which is why I skipped it theatrically, but wanted to give it a fair shake for this Blu-ray review. I think Sean Penn is an often-exciting actor (and wow did he get in shape for this). Javier Bardem has played one of the most iconic villains in movie history. Idris Elba typically elevates all of his projects. I'll pretty much watch anything Ray Winstone does because there's something wonderfully primal in his characters. Joel Silver has produced many of the best action movies ever made. And Pierre Morel delivered a wonderfully visceral thriller with 'Taken'.
But 'The Gunman' just isn't for me.
I'm sure there are some fans out there for it -- there always are -- but I couldn't connect with this one despite some engaging sequences and a fun premise. The assassin with a past coming back to haunt him is a genre staple for sure, but that's okay. I even like the way the filmmakers add in the love triangle complications as well as the overall commentary on black ops mercenaries working for multinational corporations in the so-called developing world. It's terrifying and grounded to imagine unregulated capitalism unintentionally igniting a civil war.
Yet, in 'The Gunman' it feels as though each of these elements is underserved or, to put it another way, whenever the story stops to focus on one aspect (assassins, love triangle, or politics), it neglects the other two elements in a way that doesn't make the whole move feel thematically cohesive. In that sense, the second act drags significantly as we stop to pick up the emotional pieces and while the final half of the film offers up one exceptionally tense sequence (a bomb in the apartment) many others feel a little lifeless.
There's also a subplot about Sean Penn's "post concussion syndrome", or head trauma, which manifests with some fun surround sound moments, but conveniently shows up when Penn needs to lose and lessens when he needs to win. It too feels disparate to the rest of the film.
Lastly, I wonder about the film's politics. Not to say they aren't interesting, or that it's a bad idea to try to argue for something you believe in action-movie filmmaking. But if the film's premise is that crooked multi-national corporations shouldn't have the free reign to ignite civil wars (intentionally or unintentionally), maybe you should show the consequences of these actions in the actual story? Basically, is there a missed opportunity to have Jim Terrier's journey (his penance) be one where he has to make up for his crimes in the actual environment he helped create?
I'm not sure, to be honest. I hate to say any movie Should or Must Be a certain way, let alone imply that it needs to be some kind of White Savior movie. I tend to give filmmakers the benefit of the doubt that, whether or not it's working for me, that they delivered a version of the film they intended to make. I guess I just find it a little disheartening that Jim's goals ultimately be to take on the very system that employed him (naturally), but it feels so disconnected from the human side of that tragic system.
Overall, 'The Gunman' offers up beautiful locations, some tense action sequences, and a bunch of movie stars you probably like, but I personally found the whole experience lesser than the sum of its own parts. Oh well.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Gunman' arrives on Blu-ray in North America via Universal Home Entertainment. The two-disc packaging includes one BD-50, one DVD-9, and a code for Digital HD redemption in iTunes as well as Ultraviolet (yes, both). Blu-ray Disc trailers include 'The Loft', 'Black Sea', 'Blackhat', 'Seventh Son', and 'Chicago PD'.
'The Gunman races across the globe with a strong AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
Sported a compressed color palette, 'The Gunman' never achieves reference or demonstration levels of perfection, most notably due to a slightly less than perfect black levels, but for the most part this movie looks terrific in high definition. Bold, saturated colors show off foreign locations. Night sequences don't suffer from any noise degradation. Skin tones are warm, but accurate. And resolution is apparent wherever the camera finds focus, most notably with the human characters -- facial imperfections, body hair, clothing. Gritty locations like underground sewer tunnels are also rich with detail. Overall a very handsome Blu-ray.
For this review, I used an Onkyo TX-NR3030 flagship 11-channel AV Receiver, currently on loan from Onkyo and configured for Dolby Atmos 7.1.4.
'The Gunman' booms and and blasts its way onto Blu-ray with an effective Dolby Atmos surround sound track (Dolby 7.1 TrueHD for those who do not yet have Dolby Atmos). Much like the video, 'The Gunman' audio mix is quite good, but never achieves full reference quality. It lacks a consistent use of overhead immersion found in the best Atmos tracks ('Gravity' being the current benchmark), and also could use a little more variation in its overall sound design.
Aside from a few quibbles, 'The Gunman' should please most audio geeks, particularly those with 5.1 or 7.1 setups. This track plays loud when it has to, quiet at times, and offers numerous panning flourishes tied to Sean Penn's "post concussion syndrome". LFE is tight and punchy during gun shots, explosions, and air craft flying overhead. Dialog is clear at all times.
Overall, this is a very competent track, but not one as exciting as other sound mixes in this genre or surround format.
Aside from the aforementioned trailers, there are no Special Features on this Blu-ray.
'The Gunman' offers up an interesting premise, grafting a love triangle and political commentary onto the assassin or hitman action thriller genre, but in doing so, doesn't always balance those elements evenly, leaving each part feeling more disparate than cohesive. In other words, while the movie generally works scene to scene, it wasn't for me.
As a Blu-ray, 'The Gunman' features strong video and audio elements but, even with a Dolby Atmos surround mix, never achieves a Demonstration Worthy status, something many action thrillers are able to do whether or not audience members are taken with the characters and story. Lacking any kind of special features, 'The Gunman' doesn't offer significant value to potential buyers and is, therefore, should be rented before purchasing. However, if you're already a fan of 'The Gunman', you'll likely be pleased with this package.