*½/**** Image A Sound A
starring Sean Penn, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Javier Bardem
screenplay by Don McPherson, Pete Travis, Sean Penn, based on the novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette
directed by Pierre Morel
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by Bill Chambers Sean Penn seems like the last guy who would walk into his agent's office and say, "Give me the Liam Neeson™," because his work doesn't operate on that kind of cynicism. Even I Am Sam, in which he courts an Oscar by playing mentally-challenged, fits neatly into a career whose primary auteurist concern has been the sanctity and fragility of daughters' lives (see also: The Crossing Guard, The Pledge, 21 Grams, and Mystic River). So it's reassuring, sort of, to see him use The Gunman as a pulpit for his humanitarian concerns (presuming I've correctly extrapolated the political firebrand's credited contribution to the screenplay), but there is a disappointing transparency to the character, as if he's afraid that reinventing himself too much in the Neeson mold will reveal, God forbid, a desire to stay popular in a profession he has threatened to quit numerous times. In The Gunman, one of our most transformative actors--a guy who as recently as 2011 turned himself into the spitting image of The Cure's Robert Smith and affected a childlike drawl for the length of a feature--comports himself with a tedious self-seriousness, makes time to surf, and smokes way too much to be a credible action hero. He's Sean Penn in all but name, and he's kind of a drag.