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Movie Review

'Gunman' Wastes Potential


Actor Sean Penn has been so deeply involved in the social problems of Africa that it seems odd that he has gotten himself into as shallow a movie about Africa as The Gunman.

We first see him involved in a serious assassination attempt reminiscent of Lee Harvey Oswald and American Sniper, and next we see him involved in efforts to provide clean water to an African village. It would be interesting to see what led him from the first effort to the second, but the movie never shows us that. Before the second scene is over, somebody tries to assassinate Penn, and the main plot of The Gunman begins.

And the rest of the movie consists largely, as The Week magazine put it, of "a rote series of chases, shoot-outs, and close-quarters brawls," many made of the kind of quick cutting between shots that is so easy to do without much effort by stars or stunt men.

It's not for lack of potential material. There's a big international corporation and some big international conferences, and a sort of love story involving political loyalties, and the mystery of who is after Penn and why.

And it's not for lack of a competent cast, with Javier Bardem as a man who may be playing on both teams, and Ray Winstone and Mark Rylance and a new heroine, Jasmine Trinca, in equally ambiguous roles. And there's a concluding bullfight that you have to admit is a surprise in a movie like The Gunman. There are even a few hints of serious issues along the way.

But I wish somebody had take any of it seriously enough to make The Gunman something more than a routine action movie.