Is this like a super-delayed midlife crisis thing? A self-serving virility confirmation wherein middle-aged actors with solid dramatic chops suddenly feel the urge to shoot guns, pump iron and star in action films? I don't mean tongue-in-cheek shoot-em-ups like The Expendables either, that's obviously a joking homage, but what the heck is Academy Award winner Sean Penn doing in The Gunman (Other than bite the Liam Neeson Taken formula — with the actual director of Taken)? Is this a real movie or just Penn trying to prove he still has 2H lead in his pencil?
Opening this week at the Village 8, The Gunman stars Penn as an ex-military/private militia assassin looking to win back some karma by digging wells with an NGO in the Congo, which happens to be the scene of his last murder-for-money shenanigans.
That sordid past catches up to him and starts shooting, so Penn rips off his shirt and embarks on a mini-globe-trotting exchange of jibes and bullets. Cue the (much younger) girlfriend-in-distress scenario, a lack of real urgency, and a convenient bout of concussion-effected memory loss that fails to add the tension it hopes to.
Cast mates Idris Elba (The Wire) and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) round things out a little bit, but mostly The Gunman is a 54-year-old man with his shirt off shooting at things in a movie with an underdeveloped humanitarian message and way more foreshadowing than it needs. Penn is a great actor (and a great humanitarian), but he's always excelled at those tortured roles (Mystic River, Dead Man Walking). While this reformed assassin would work on paper, on the screen it just comes across weird seeing a buff, old Spicoli blowing shit up. If you really want a "great white ass-kicker" flick this week opt for Liam Neeson in Run All Night, which is still playing at the Village 8.
The only other new flick dropping at the Village 8 this week is Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent Series (based on the young adult novels of the same name). Anyone who can remember Part 1 of this series is doing better than me, but it all seems to be a jumbled sci-fi mashup of cyber-youth-rebellion that lacks the unique, cohesive world of The Hunger Games or even the "yeah, that's cool" factor of The Maze Runner.
What Insurgent does have is actress Shailene Woodley (The Fault in our Stars) and she has enough talent to carry this entire franchise and more. Woodley is a star for our times — one whose beauty comes from strength and intensity rather than augmentative surgery and an eating disorder. This flick does best when it gives the screen to Shailene; the eyes alone can steal a scene.
As a "divergent," Woodley's character is able to crossover the various "factions" of this dystopian future society. Not only that, she is the unique and special snowflake that can pull the sword from the stone of the future and save humanity. Or something. Kate Winslet (Titanic, Heavenly Creatures) plays the villain in this one and always-smoking Naomi Watts (Tank Girl, St Vincent) also pops up. Fans of the series will probably be stoked, but if you are jumping into this one cold, be prepared for some nifty CGI, a great lead actress and very little more. Except Miles Teller (Footloose, Project X) is in it. Keep an eye on this kid. Fresh off a star-making turn in the Oscar-nominated Whiplash, Teller plays Reed Richards in the next Fantastic Four flick and has apparently signed on to the upcoming film based on infamous bankrobbers, The Stopwatch Gang. No confirmed reports, but based on the physical resemblance Teller will probably play the role of Stephen Reid, who penned an excellent novel based on his role in the Stopwatch Gang called Jackrabbit Parole. Go buy it at Armchair Books in Whistler Village.
Speaking of books, the trend in Hollywood is to milk all these literary trilogy adaptations into four movies by splitting the last book into two parts (or in the case of The Hobbit, splitting one book into three parts). The fourth The Hunger Games will probably blow the world apart this autumn, but in lesser franchises the obvious cash grab (see Twilight) pisses me off.
Regardless, it's the new norm. The Divergent Series is already planned for a two-part finale. Which is fine except a pretty strong argument can be made that they easily could have combined the first two instalments into one. How long until movie audiences get tired of being hustled? How many of us already are?