If, in spite of these deficiencies, you think you may still want to watch the film, I recommend that you stop reading now, because the spoilers are about to begin. As before, the intent here is to offer an alternative to seeing the film at all. This may take a while, but it will be shorter than the movie itself, as well as less expensive and, with luck, moderately more entertaining. Onward.
1. Before the screening I attended began, there was a brief in-person demonstration by a local mixed martial arts club. Illustrating a defensive jujitsu move to be used against an assailant with a pistol, one of the instructors explained, “It’s easier to get out of the way of the bullet when it’s still in the gun.” This was literally the best line of dialogue I would hear all night.
2. The director of The Gunman is Pierre Morel, who also directed Liam Neeson’s surprise 2008 hit Taken. This has led virtually everyone alive to note that Penn was hoping this movie would be his Taken, which is true enough. But Morel aside, it could as easily have been Penn’s RED or The Expendables or November Man or The Book of Eli or Escape Plan or any of a dozen other examples. Mid-budget action movies—i.e., ones not laden with CGI—have been dominated by middle-agers for a good while now. The reason is simple, as one executive explained to Vulture two years and countless “geri-action” releases ago: When it comes to stars, “foreign buyers buy yesterday. They don’t buy tomorrow.”
3. But on to the movie itself. It begins grimly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, in 2006. As images of atrocities and starving babies flash across the screen, newscasters trade political shorthand: “world’s deadliest conflict,” “private security contractors,” “vast mineral wealth,” “to meet the growing demand of the Western world.” Did I mention that Penn co-wrote the screenplay? The vague (okay, not always that vague) whiff of sanctimony that accompanies almost everything he does is in the air from the opening credits on.
4. Penn’s character, Jim Terrier—and yes, I believe this name was spit out by some action-hero algorithm—enters a cantina where his beautiful girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), is waiting. She is an aid worker at a local clinic; he’s a security contractor. When she sets eyes on him, she lights up as if she just saw all the puppies in the world gamboling together. (She will do this a lot.) My notes read: SHE IS CLEARLY GOING TO DIE.
5. Also in the bar is a colleague of theirs named Felix, who’s played by someone who looks identical to Javier Bardem but somehow seems to lack any of his talent. He drools when he looks at Annie and grimaces when he sees how she looks at Jim. This will end badly.
5. There’s an operation set to take place in Kinshasa, the assassination of a government minister. Felix, who is the go-between with the shadowy client, says the shooter will have to leave the country immediately after the killing. Jim turns out to be the shooter. See what Felix did there? Very clever. I cross out what I wrote before and write: SHE IS CLEARLY GOING TO END UP WITH BARDEM.