Tag Archives: Liam Neeson

Oblivious Sexism of ‘The Gunman’ One of Many Misfires

The Gunman
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (strong violence, language, some sexuality)
115 minutes

I suppose we have “Taken” to thank for reigniting interest in testosterone-laden action flicks in which women are little more than objects to be rescued.

A “Taken” wannabe that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be serious or over the top, “The Gunman” raises this antiquated cinematic trope to troubling new levels of obliviousness.

Sean Penn plays an assassin, posing as a security contractor, who falls in love with an impossibly beautiful aid worker in the Congo (Jasmine Trinca). Annie — even her name implies childlike helplessness — speaks with an alluring Italian accent. Her hair is perfectly tousled, even when she’s pulling an all-nighter at the local medical clinic.

She and Penn’s character, Jim, appear to have little in common — “He’s a hard man,” she tells a friend who questions her taste in boyfriends — but she spends her free time waiting around for him anyway, ready to hop into bed at a moment’s notice. Afterward, she gazes pensively out the window, clad only in a white button-down shirt that highlights her glorious legs.

There are a lot of other things going on in “The Gunman.” Too many things, actually. But director Pierre Morel, the French filmmaker who not-so-coincidentally helmed “Taken,” is inordinately preoccupied with Annie’s suffering and humiliation.

Despite Jim’s professed passion, he is responsible for the increasingly preposterous catastrophes that befall her. During the course of the film, Annie is abandoned, manhandled or worse, passed back and forth like a trophy between Jim and a colleague/rival (Javier Bardem), relentlessly pursued, captured, drugged and in constant need of rescue. The camera lingers on her, trussed like a chicken on the floor, blouse slipping off her shoulders.

Annie’s primary reaction to these circumstances is to fall apart at every turn. The only decisive, independent action she takes is a sexual one and, though she plays a part in the villain’s demise at the end of the film, it is almost entirely accidental. This woman is the insulting epitome of the mindless, passive damsel in distress who has no place in modern cinema.

Penn apparently helped screenwriters Don MacPherson and Pete Travis pen the script for “The Gunman” — working from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette — so he is at least partially to blame for this antiquated character. Would someone please introduce him to the concept of the Bechdel Test?

The irony is that “The Gunman” could function decently — indeed, it would be a better film — without the presence of Annie.

The premise is promising, if unoriginal: Ex-Special Forces sniper Jim participates in the assassination of a government minister, whose death plunges the Congo into chaos. Guilt-ridden, he disappears for eight years, before trading wet work for aid work and returning to the Congo, where he becomes the target of heavily armed mercenaries.

To find out who wants him dead, Jim must globe trot to London and Barcelona, confronting his former partners in crime, including point man Felix, played by Bardem, still oozing the scenery-chewing hamminess he exhibited to greater effect in “The Counselor” and “Skyfall.”

Like Liam Neeson in Morel’s aforementioned film, Jim possesses a particular set of skills, resulting in several brutal set pieces, including scenes at an aquarium and a bull ring that should be more thrilling than they ultimately are. In the latter sequence, Morel gracelessly juxtaposes images of Penn and the slaughter of a great, horned beast.

Jim has an Achilles heel, a disorienting mental affliction that makes his vengeful mission all the more grueling. So “The Gunman” is basically “The Bourne Identity” with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of the “Taken” franchise.

At the film’s halfway mark, Jim jets to Spain, where Bardem sulks drunkenly in an opulent luxury mansion and a lipstick red vintage getaway car conveniently waits in a nearby barn. That’s about the time the movie begins to feel like a James Bondian vanity project.

Penn obviously took this role seriously, a little too seriously perhaps. Buffed up to proportions that would elicit the envy of men decades younger, he’s all desperation and intensity, but this attempt at action stardom is a strange fit. Neeson doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Morel surrounds Penn with a pedigreed ensemble, including Ray Winstone and celebrated British stage actor Mark Rylance, but they’re mostly wasted or miscast.

You know something is off when the excellent Idris Elba shows up in a single scene and all he gets to do is monologue about tree houses.

Photos: http://www.openroadfilms.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Weekend, See ‘Maleficent,’ Skip ‘A Million Ways’

Maleficent
Two and a half stars (out of four)
Rating: PG (Fantasy action and violence, frightening images)
98 minutes

Angelina Jolie has always kinda scared me. Not because she used to wear vials of blood around her neck and sleep with knives under her pillow, but because she’s always been something of a goddess, so chilly and unapproachable. Maybe that’s why she’s perfect as the iconic villain of Disney’s “Maleficent,” a revisionist history of the studio’s own classic animated film “Sleeping Beauty.”

As a kid, the sorceress and her eerie, horned silhouette struck terror into my heart. Jolie melts into the stuff of my childhood nightmares so effortlessly, with cheekbones Marlene Dietrich would kill for and a purr that’s pure, silky evil. “Maleficent” is a surprisingly sympathetic take on the object of my youthful fears, putting a clever enough spin on the gorgeously animated 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” with a refreshingly feminist twist.

The movie imagines a colorful back story for the fairy tale’s famous baddie, envisioning her as the winged, nature-loving guardian of an enchanted forest whose betrayal at the hand’s of an ambitious lover drives her to cast that notorious narcoleptic curse upon an innocent princess. This alternate myth gives Jolie ample opportunity to display many facets of an intriguing character. Clad in leathery black, there’s something of the sexy dominatrix about her but she’s also vulnerable and funny and downright tragic with a magnificent sneer and a killer villain’s laugh.

Unlike co-stars Sharlto Copley, who plays the maniacally paranoid King Stephan, and Elle Fanning, as the simpering Aurora (apparently, it is too much to ask to have two interesting female characters in one movie), Jolie ingeniously underplays what could have been an unbearably hammy performance.

“Maleficent” is heavy on visual effects. It was directed by first-timer Robert Stromberg, a former VFX artist and supervisor. He’s populated the film with an ensemble of obnoxious CGI fairies and cutesy woodland critters. Not all of them are convincing, but Jolie is the only special effect this movie really needs.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

 A Million Ways to Die in the West
One and a half stars
Rating: R (strong crude and sexual content, language, violence and drug material)
116 minutes

There may be “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” but there are only a handful of jokes hilarious enough to send yer whiskey snortin’ out yer nose, pardner.

Writer-director Seth MacFarlane seems to be on to something by playing this Western parody mostly straight. As the title suggests, the film pokes fun at the often lethal living conditions of the 1800s frontier, but the concept proves limited. This ain’t no “Blazing Saddles.”

At first, the sight of villagers in the tiny Arizona outpost of Old Stump perishing in sudden and random ways — getting squashed by a block of ice or gored by a runaway bull —  is mighty amusing, but the well of laughs quickly runs dry. What’s left is a fairly predictable story about a misfit sheep farmer (played by MacFarlane) who befriends a like-minded, sharp-shootin’ cowgirl (a game Charlize Theron), only to run afoul of her outlaw husband (Liam Neeson).

The film’s gags are just as irreverent, raunchy and politically incorrect as you’d expect from the creator of “Family Guy” and “Ted” and the Oscar’s most controversial host. There’s a running joke involving the town virgin (Giovanni Ribisi) dating the town whore (Sarah Silverman) and Neil Patrick Harris does unspeakable things to a couple of dandy bowler hats, but there is a general dearth of laugh-out-loud moments. Even a moustache-themed dance number doesn’t feel nearly as clever or strange as it should.

There’s a reason MacFarlane doesn’t usually star in his own films. He’s just too smug to play the sarcastic but likable everyman. But the ubiquitous Harris is a hoot as his romantic rival, the preening proprietor of the local moustachery. There’s also a priceless joke that almost makes sitting through this overlong, underwritten comedy worthwhile, at least for “Back to the Future” fans.

 Photos by Disney, Lorey Sebastian