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Catholic News Service Movie Reviews


The Gunman
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — The plodding thriller The Gunman (Open Road) leaves a trail of messy mayhem and misguided values as its action shuttles between Africa and Europe.

Consequently, mature moviegoers will need a thick skin to withstand its violent visuals as well as considerable discernment to strain out its flawed understanding of marriage.

There’s also a basic hurdle of believability for viewers to clear, given that Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), the firearm-toting character of the title, transforms himself in short order — at least as measured by elapsed running time — from paid assassin to peaceable aid worker. We’re tipped off to Jim’s potential for better things early on, though, by being shown his passion for his do-gooder girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca).

Jim’s attraction to his altruistic true love — whose work for a non-governmental organization has brought her to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he’s posing as a security guard for employees of a non-governmental organization — is admirable enough. Their taken-for-granted decision to live together, not so much.

Jim’s real profession creates romantic complications when the time comes to eliminate a troublesome Congo cabinet minister. The official’s meddling has threatened the profits of the behind-the-scenes corporate types who pay Jim and his confederates to kill. So Jim’s boss, Cox (Mark Rylance), organizes a hit.

It’s up to Jim’s colleague Felix (Javier Bardem) to decide which member of their squad will be selected for the high-profile job, and it’s no accident that he settles on Jim. Given the headline-grabbing nature of the rub-out, the chosen gunman will have to go into prolonged hiding in its wake. And, since Felix is carrying a torch for Annie, having Jim out of the way in the murder’s aftermath will suit his romantic purposes perfectly.

Flash-forward the better part of a decade and Jim is back in Africa drilling wells for the poor when his laudable labour is interrupted by a near-fatal attempt at long-delayed retribution. Evading his would-be killers, Jim hightails it first to London, where he tracks down Cox, and then to Barcelona, where he reconnects not only with Felix but, in an all-too-cozy manner, with Annie, who’s now Felix’s wife.

The script for director Pierre Morel’s often-gory adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel The Prone Gunman — on which Penn collaborated with Don MacPherson and Pete Travis — implicitly justifies the adulterous resumption of Jim and Annie’s relationship.

Felix is an underhanded villain, Annie married him for all the wrong reasons, and we can tell just by watching Jim and Annie neck that they’re meant for each other. So it’s not really cheating; it’s the triumph of Cupid. Right.

As the plot description above hints, the screenplay also takes a fashionably anti-capitalist stance by suggesting that all the problems of the developing world result from the machinations of multinational conglomerates. If only the sometimes murky plot of The Gunman were as simplistic as its worldview, the work of keeping up with the proceedings might not seem so unrewarding.

The film contains strong, frequently bloody violence, a distorted view of marital fidelity, a semi-graphic scene of adultery, cohabitation, brief rear nudity in a non-sexual context, adult references, a couple of uses of profanity as well as pervasive rough and occasional crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — Teenagers are still on the run — when they’re not too busy killing one other — in The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Summit), the followup to last year’s kick-off of the futuristic franchise.

Based on the second book of the trilogy by Veronica Roth and directed by Robert Schwentke (The Time traveller’s Wife), Insurgent is faster-paced and sleeker-looking than its predecessor, with echoes of The Matrix in its stylish 3D slow-motion action sequences. But it also ramps up the violence and moral ambiguity, placing this film squarely outside the proper reach of younger adolescents.

For the uninitiated, the setting is post-apocalyptic Chicago, a walled city run with an iron glove by Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet). She oversees a regimented system whereby people are divided into factions, each representing a different virtue: Candor (honesty), Amity (peace), Erudite (knowledge), Dauntless (bravery), and Abnegation (selfless).

Those who are not easily classified are called Divergents. Their independent nature is a threat to the status quo, and Jeanine commands that they be hunted down and killed.

Enter our heroes, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her mentor-lover Four (Theo James). When we last saw this duo, they had recruited an army from members of their Dauntless faction and foiled Jeanine’s dastardly plan — though at the cost of Tris’ parents’ lives.

Now they’re renegades on the run. An elaborate cat-and-mouse game ensues, as both sides try to gain the upper hand.

“Dark times call for extreme measures,” Jeanine proclaims. “I am seeking the greater good.”

Tris would make the same claim. Circumstances have transformed our initially meek teen into a battle-hardened Joan of Arc. Internally, though, she’s conflicted, torn by a desire for revenge yet wracked by guilt, blaming herself for the deaths of so many, and unable to seek forgiveness for her sins.

To Tris’ credit, she stakes out the moral high ground when possible. She’s also concerned about others, including her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), and fellow Dauntless member Peter (Miles Teller). Their allegiance to the cause is questionable, and neither is to be trusted.

Amid the mayhem, new characters are introduced. Johanna (Octavia Spencer), saintly head of the Amity faction, offers sanctuary to the rebels on her farm outside the city.

Though presumed dead for years, Four’s mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts), turns up as the creepy leader of an underground army. She has a score to settle with her old friend Jeanine, and seeks sonny boy’s help.

As Insurgent lumbers toward its explosive climax, the death count rises. And chivalry clearly has no place in this version of the future, where men hesitate neither to beat women to a pulp nor, when the occasion seems to demand it, to slaughter them.

The film contains intense violence, including scenes of torture, non-graphic non-marital sexual activity and some crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops