The Gunman is an atrocious film that no one should pay money to watch. Sean Penn plays the title character. He’s an asshole. Instead of looking up the character’s name, I’m just going to call him Asshole and the film The Asshole for the duration of this review.
And just an aside before I go into full evisceration mode, I’d just like to point out that Idris Elba and Javier Bardem have sacrificed all credibility at this point. They’ve made some crappy decisions the last few years, but this one is the tipping point for their apparent judgment. Why? Why would acclaimed actors like that take roles in such a catastrophic train wreck of a film?
There’s a rule of thumb in fiction that — barring stories set before the last fifteen years — if your story could be resolved by making a cell phone call in the first paragraph, then your story sucks. Well The Asshole introduces a new twist: if your story could be resolved by the protagonist just shooting himself in the head in the opening scene, then your story sucks.
The Asshole features as a protagonist an asshole whose job at a Blackwater stand-in is to murder innocent people, including a government minister whose death it is implied launches a civil war in which hundreds of thousands die. It’s implied that he feels bad about it because he has flashbacks to pulling the trigger, but since like eight years pass while he sits on a pile of evidence that would bring down Fake Blackwater and he doesn’t do anything until thugs try to kill him, it seems that he feels bad about mass murder the way normal people feel bad about cutting someone off in line at the grocery store. I mean, you might think back and regret being a dick, but it’s not like you offer to let them go in front of you or anything that would put you out in the slightest.
The subtitle of the film could practically be Suck It Bechdel. There are three women in the entire film. One exists in order to have two lines and then get vaguely hit on by Asshole. The second is a maid with no lines who gets shot dead while people I can only assume must have been good guys try to kill Asshole. The third is the nominal female lead who literally has the characterization of a piece of luggage. Well I guess not literally, since you don’t generally fuck your luggage, but since she solely exists in the film in order to be passed around by men as an object, then it’s figuratively literal.
She is a perfect angel who is beautiful and intelligent and works with kids and as an aid worker and is also a surgeon too, and I suppose a unicorn and princess too given the level of stapling her onto a pedestal. She starts the film banging Asshole. He has to leave Africa because of like murder reasons, so he tells Javier Bardem to take care of her. He does by marrying her, which is an even creepier definition of “take care of” than Rafi’s. When Asshole comes back eight years later she immediately screws him despite being married, as one is wont to do when one’s sole character decisions are whether to be on top or bottom. Then asshole leaves her with another friend to take care of her (with neither Bardem’s nor Rafi’s definitions apparent at least). Then a bad man takes her. Then Asshole takes her back. Then Asshole gives her to Idris Elba to take care of.
Isn’t it just remarkable that Sean Penn of all people got a screenwriting credit for this? I know, right?
But the thing that just puts it over the top is the sheer goddamned smugness of the film. There is no levity in the entire film, not the slightest bit of fun, not the slightest bit even of cheesiness. Just dead grinding seriousness as they go about telling a VERY IMPORTANT story. It was by about the halfway point that it became clear that everyone involved from actors to directors to craft services clearly thought they were making a super-serious Oscar contender of a movie and not a terribly shitty rip off of Taken.
There are somber lectures from fake news reporters about how terrible multinational companies are. Documentary-style rants erupt about intentionally goaded civil wars and massacres in order to keep resource prices low. It’s so over the top and smug that it can’t even manage the unintentional hilarity of watching the intellectually equivalent tripe that fills up the right YouTube channels. It has the deadly gravity of an Ayn Rand novel but the mental outlook of an eleven year old socialist who’s decided he hates capitalism despite not knowing what it actually is, while being incapable of conceiving of any solutions that don’t involve fast cut gun and knife fights with more casualties than the Manson family.
At one point in the climax of the film, which takes place in a bullfighting stadium because apparently this is an episode of GI Joe, while Asshole is Liam Neesoning his way through the mandatory collection of Eurotrash with the obligatory all-American looking guy with the square jaw running things badly, the film keeps flashing in slow motion to a bullfighter doing his thing with a bull. Like super seriously and dramatically intercut because the only thing more incompetent as a storyteller than beating the audience over the head with a metaphor is doing so with a metaphor that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.
This was a painful two hours of my life that I will never get back. Do not give money to this incompetent idiocy.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.