“The Gunman”: Sean Penn’s idiotic, glorious and doomed leftist thriller

March 19, 2015 1:04 PM

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Maybe the best way to summarize “The Gunman” is that it’s a terrible idea, a fatal morass of meretricious values and bogus sentimentality, which is executed really, really well. It’s a globetrotting action-espionage thriller in the “Bourne Identity” vein, shot in Africa, Barcelona, London and the bowels of an aquarium in Gibraltar (although to my great disappointment no one is thrown into the shark tank) and directed by Pierre Morel, a Luc Besson protégé who made the first “Taken” movie in 2008. It appears to have been constructed as a star vehicle for Sean Penn, who is one of its producers. Without disputing either Penn’s filmmaking clout or his acting prowess, this is a really weird choice even by his standards. Here we have a 54-year-old, two-time Oscar winner, a consummate actor’s actor who has played all kinds of parts in all kinds of films, trying to blaze a new path as the second coming of Jason Statham or Vin Diesel.

But I’ll be damned if Penn doesn’t pull it off, although I’m not sure the public is lining up to see the guy who played Harvey Milk transformed into a hard-body CIA assassin seeking redemption. (Do I sense a mashup in the making?) I genuinely don’t want to know what kind of terrifying pharmaceutical...

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