Action Blu-ray Review

'The Gunman' Blu-ray Review: Sean Penn misfires in this tired tale of redemption and revenge

June 30, 2015Ben MK

Even if you don't know his name, you're probably familiar with Pierre Morel's handiwork. As the director behind Taken, he's often credited with turning Liam Neeson into the badass — and bankable — action star he is today. And in The Gunman, Morel teams up with Sean Penn, presumably with similar intentions in mind.

Loosely based on author Jean-Patrick Manchette's "The Prone Gunman," the film stars Penn as Jim Terrier, a private security contractor by day and a lethally-skilled mercenary by night. Stationed in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Jim and his compatriots, Felix (Javier Bardem) and Terry (Mark Rylance), are hired to assassinate the nation's Minister of Mining, after which Jim is forced to flee the country, reluctantly leaving his girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), behind in the process. Returning to the DRC eight years later, Jim finds that the tables have turned and that he's become the target, leading him to embark on a dangerous mission to uncover the truth about who might want him dead.

It's a quest that will take him around the globe to London, Barcelona and Gibraltar, where Jim will engage in a series of firefights and fisticuffs with an assortment of bad guys, while attempting to rekindle his relationship with Annie. Unfortunately, neither of those two aspects of the movie are handled particularly well. The action, while generally solid, has a tendency to come across as underwhelming and broadly unremarkable. And as for the romance between Jim and Annie, it proves overly reliant on the two actors' non-existent on-screen chemistry, making it all but impossible to become genuinely invested as Annie inevitably gets entangled in the violent situation.

To make matters worse, the film's early scenes — set amid the turmoil of the DRC's first democratic elections in four decades — only serve to give viewers a false sense of hope that geopolitical intrigue somehow figures prominently into the plot. But alas, it turns out to be merely a ruse, as The Gunman swiftly veers into all-too-familiar action-thriller territory. Ordinarily, that might not be so bad; however, despite the best efforts of its Oscar-caliber cast, which includes the likes of Ray Winstone and Idris Elba, the results are barely serviceable. One thing's for certain: you probably shouldn't expect to see Penn stealing roles away from Liam Neeson any time soon.

Misgivings about the quality of the film itself aside, The Gunman actually makes quite the positive technical impression on Blu-ray. Although cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano's camerawork doesn't take full advantage of the beauty of some of the locales, what ends up on-screen is still quite memorable in terms of the striking level of detail on display, the vibrancy of the color palette, and the general depth and dimensionality exhibited by this hi-def image. Similar praise goes to the movie's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, which possesses all the vital characteristics necessary for an immersive aural experience. In particular, gunshots, punches and explosions are riveting, while ricocheting bullets and showers of debris make good use of the surround channels. It's also welcome to see that the bombastic action doesn't drown out the intelligibility of the film's dialogue, nor does it impact composer Marco Beltrami's pulse-pounding score.

Sadly, Elevation Pictures' single-disc Blu-ray release contains no special features whatsoever.

The Gunman is available from Elevation Pictures as of June 30th, 2015. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Subtitles are presented in English SDH. The film's runtime is 1 Hr. 56 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on March 20th, 2015.

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