THE GUNMAN REVIEW

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Sean Penn doesn’t do many films but when he does . . .

They’re pretty damn boring.

So what’s it about? A sniper (Sean Penn) on a mercenary assassination team, kills the minister of mines of the Congo. Terrier’s successful kill shot forces him into hiding. Returning to the Congo years later, he becomes the target of a hit squad himself.

That was according to the IMDb. I had no idea what was going on. BUT by the end, I didn’t care.

From the director that brought you Taken . . .

Which one? 1-2-3? Oh, the first one. It should be okay, then. Biggest mistake of my life.

I expected no-nonsense, fist crunching, cars chasing, buildings exploding. ACTION! Not mindless exposition and cliched dialgoue with hammy characters that you couldn’t give two umphs about.

Sean Penn did his best. But his character was so weak and bland. He was the typical generic action hero.

Tortured good guy trying to do the right thing. Smitten with a woman he can’t have. Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t mind being force fed the same old predictable action movie bilge. Nothing’s original. BUT at least try and make it interesting or throw in lots of shiny explosions and high octane punch em ups to make up for it. Is that too much to ask?

Penn looked fit (Not in that way. Steady now). At 54, he proved he could still kick an ass or two. He dealt with the (little) action sequences we had on offer with ease.

I just wish his character didn’t feel like someone pulled out of The Expendables.

The plot was terrible. To make matters worse, it didn’t make any sense. The more they bleated on (and believe me, they did!), the more questions I had.

The opening didn’t really get things going at all. The whole Sky News reporting on The Congo showed potential. Keeping up with the times and building a story around it.

BUT oh how wrong I turned out to be.

The graphic footage and statistics were certainly an eye opener but they were soon pushed into the background for the usual Hollywood guff.

We are had to endure the drudge that was a hammy love triangle between Penn, Jasmine Trinca and Javier Bardem.

Bardem was probably one of the only saving graces. It’s just a shame that he got on my nerves as he went on. His *SPOILER* early departure from the film left a void that was never filled. The void being the rest of the film.

He played the part well as the sleazy operation leader hell bent on stealing Penn’s bird.

That was about as much as I got out of his murderous intent.

Seriously, the plot was that convoluted that it gave me a headache.

BUT don’t worry, it all ends the same way. That’s right. Corny as hell with no real thought or proper explanation. Lovely!

The problem with Bardem’s performance was that it was too manic. He went from a sleazebag to a drunken child within a few scenes. Bad writing. Bad interpretation. Shame.

Speaking of poor performances, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall). Lordy lord. I couldn’t take him seriously. He sounded constipated. I kid you not. He looked the part. A slick, slimy corporate business type. Until he opened his mouth.

He wasn’t strong enough to be a lead villain. Even Penn didn’t look that convinced by him.

And Idris Elba. What was the point of him? What was his character’s relevance? He smarms his way in for about five minutes spouting some waffle to Penn about not building a treehouse in this garden today.

He chucks him a calling card (accompanied with a cheeky wink) and buggers off!

What a waste of a talented actor. The money must have been good. I mean, was his role cut in the film? To be honest, they missed a trick by not having his presence.

His character was a much needed injection. A bit of mystery. A quirky (if stupid) anecdote. BUT at least it was something.

The Gunman was dull, uninteresting and way too long. And considering it was called the Gunman. Penn didn’t use a lot of guns.

The action sequences were good when they appeared. Frantic, explosive but memorable? Hardly. They became a messy blur by the closing credits.

My main issue was that it seemed to take itself too seriously. The political commentary, the examination on the Congo, the endless “Will they, won’t they?” between Trinca and Penn (when we all knew they bloody would).

AND THEN as the final 30 minutes approached, they realised they had backed themselves into a corner and then desperately went out on an all-out offensive that just came off hammy, laughable and boring.

I mean, the showdown at the bull ring should have been brooding, tense and metaphorical. NOT hysterical.

I felt numb by the end. Deflated and my boredom still very much intact. To make matters worse, I looked to my movie massive (My two mates) and asked; “So why did they want him dead?”

The writer didn’t even make use of Penn’s forced plot device. A revelation that had potential to make this dud so much more.

Hardly spoilierific as it wasn’t explained or executed properly.

Penn’s character is diagnosed with an Alzheimers like disease. He has to record and write everything down. For a moment, I thought Memento meets American Sniper. Okay, let’s do this.

Oh no. Pardon the irony here but it seemed after introducing this newly discovered character flaw, they seemed to forget about it until the final 20 minutes when every time Penn has the chance to dispense some vengeance, what does he do?

He drops to the floor and wails about like’s he having the worst hangover ever!

The whole scorned man with nothing to lose as he’s about to lose the most precious thing of all has been done to death but it still could have offered something.

Not even Ray Winstone could save the day. You know you’re onto a loser when you’re praying for Ray’s messy mercenary to pop back into things.

Sean Penn should have corned him and said, “What are the odds of this film being recommended?”

(In gruffly Winstone voice) Defo worth seeing, san 1000/1.

Place your bets because I’m not.

And to make me laugh even further, I looked into the screenwriters. One of them. Sean Penn. Case closed.

AVOID.

1.5/5

WILD REVIEW

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Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5