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Film in Review

By Bill Arceneaux

 

More often than not, at the movies, I’ll come upon a sequence or pattern of sequences that expresses to me a films’ “crisscrossed wires” mentality. To have your wires “crisscrossed” could mean any number of things, but mostly that your decision making and interpretation process is faulty. In the case of a movie, this can be easily spotted, if you take the time to look for it. Sometimes these moments can be ignored if the movie as a whole is good or quirky enough, and sometimes they stick out like a sore thumb and bring the whole experience down.

 

Allow me to submit, as examples, two noticed elements from the newly released flick The Gunman:

  1. On his way to have dinner with an old friend and former love, our hero -played by Sean Penn- is dressed without a suit jacket. Passing by a chair with an unoccupied jacket, he grabs it and puts in on without stopping, fitting perfectly.
  2. Throughout the film, Penn’s character and former coworkers discuss “sins of the past” quite frequently, but don’t seem to be haunted by or motivated to rectify any of it. Pretending to care, much?

 

It’s not out of the ordinary for things like plot holes or clichés to creep up in a film – in fact, they’ve almost become passively accepted by the masses – but examples like those above completely pull you out of the story with their missteps in logic. Stealing a random suit jacket and throwing it on in mid-motion makes for a cool visual, but the odds that it would fit our lead have to be extraordinary. And for a movie that hinges on making up for mistakes of the past, the characters involved couldn’t really care less about morality or judgment, even and especially our “hero.”

 

The Gunman is from the director of the first Taken, which involved the righteous and relatable journey of a parent rescuing a child, and taking revenge on those responsible for causing harm. Typically, we as the audience have to be placed in the shoes of the protagonist, and understand his or her plight in order to engage with the movie. The Gunman attempts this by way of a love story, between Sean Penn and a female aid worker in Africa. Everything he does to “make up for” his involvement in political and regional strife is not because he feels guilty for all of that, but because he wants to make things right with a woman he once knew. Look, I think most people have been there with their exes, but if you don’t express inner turmoil over having conducted assassinations, then maybe you deserve to be alone.

 

I’m not sure if all the nuts and bolts were present when this script went into production. Sean Penn and Javier Bardem perform almost a masterclass in body language acting, with Penn projecting head trauma pain during action bits and Bardem snapping off lines with sweet subtext. They are REALLY TRYING to ADD SOMETHING more to this. Unfortunately, they are A-List performers stuck in a B-Grade ho-hum action drama. During the opening credits, Sean Penn himself was listed as a co-writer, suggesting that, at the last minute perhaps, Penn tried injecting some flavor into this bland leftover. He did what he could and does what he can, but it’s just not enough to muster any sort of interest.

 

Part of me likes to imagine a Hollywood intern with a script he or she wants to sell. It’s bold and imaginative, but once looked over, gets churned many times into marketable schlock that resembles other marketable schlock. It’s sad to see such a devolved state of mind from major and respectable studios. Everyone makes mistakes, sure, but at some point, what was a onetime oddity becomes a glaring symptom of a horrific illness. Who is dying and how long do they have left to live, I don’t know. The Gunman isn’t by any means an initial warning sign, but rather another in a long line of red flags.

Interestingly, there is a red flag used during the climactic battle. Look closer and you’ll find things that stick out. They may ruin your night out, but you’ll be better for it.

2 / 5 *s

For more from the author, visit his new website criticalno.com and check out patreon.com/cno!

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