The Gunman, actor Sean Penn’s latest cinematic project, hit theater’s this week to anemic numbers and less-than-complimentary reviews. The Gunman, labeled a spy-action-thriller, features Penn in the role of action hero for the first time in his career, and reviewers suggest it may not be a good fit.
Adapted from The Prone Gunman, a pulp fiction novel authored by Jean-Patrich Manchette, Penn plays a former special forces soldier with a chip on his shoulder. The movie is being dubbed a vanity piece that was hoping to cash in on the kind of success that the Taken series of films has experienced, which were also directed by French cinematographer and director Pierre Morel.
Beside a possible miscast of Penn in the role of Jack Terrier, critics are also citing thin character development as a problem, despite the film being loaded with theatrical heavy-hitters such as Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Jasmine Trinca, and second in billing only to that of Penn, Idris Elba. Despite what trailers would lead you to believe, Elba is not a pivotal character in The Gunman, nor is he in much of it, appearing in only the last 15 minutes or so of the movie.
The words generic, boring, and dull are being used to describe The Gunman. Esquire said “It’s Rambo tailored to Penn’s humanitarian interests.”
Claudia Puig with USA Today said, “The only thing to recommend about ‘The Gunman’ is the fact that it has an exotic location,” and Christopher Orr with the Atlantic said, “It is impossible to indict this film as thoroughly as it indicts itself.”
Peter Sobczynski of RogerEbert.com had difficulty with the film’s narrative, finding it hard to take the film seriously, and likening one scene to be on par with that of the tongue-in-cheek spy comedy Top Secret!.
Bad reviews aside, Penn invested more than his acting ability in The Gunman; he co-wrote the screenplay with Don MacPherson and Pete Travis and was also a producer for the film.
The Gunman was fourth in domestic box office earnings in its debut weekend, bringing in just $5 million, making it one of the poorest openings of Sean Penn’s career.