Penn plays Jim Terrier, who is part of a group of highly-trained mercenaries on a secret mission in Congo, while he is specifically charged with taking out a top ranking politician with deadly force, knowing that as a result he will have to go into hiding to protect his unit and the woman he loves (Jasmine Trinca). Years later, having disappeared into a seemingly quiet life helping others, Terrier finds himself being hunted and knows he has to retrace his steps to find out who wants him dead. Realising that everyone who was on the fateful mission in Congo is in danger, can Terrier win back honour and stay alive?
Following in the footsteps of Liam Neeson and the wildly popular Taken formula, Penn runs, shoots, gets double-crossed and finds that you can ever escape your past. Realism is in short supply as villains and heroes seem to adopt a scatter-gun approach to logic, and the director Pierre Morel isn’t too far behind. Taking painfully long to discover the most simple of secrets and then an age to act upon them.
What does work is Penn himself. Clearly still throwing himself into every role with the gusto he is famed for, the actor looks in amazing shape. It might sound like a flippant point, but there is no hiding behind a baggy T-Shirt in this instance. In fact, Penn is so keen to show off his ripped torso that we are treated to an entirely unnecessary surfing sequence.
Elsewhere, the performances vary. We all know Mark Rylance can act, and he does so here giving it his all in the shadows. Although his character is largely given a predictable role to play in the film, at least he is given something to do. Sitting this one out on the bench are heavyweights Ray Winstone and Idris Elba, however, the latter of whom is in no more than a mere handful of scenes. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem is at least having fun, chewing up the scenery much as he did in The Counsellor. Alas he too meets a wall of predictability early in the movie and we are left to rue the absence of one of the few entertaining elements of the film.
The opening of the film suggests that we might get an intriguing take on global politics and where direct guerrilla action from Western forces might fit in. Indeed the use of news footage and depictions of actual conflicts across Africa give this an aura of legitimacy that is quickly squandered in a hail of gunfire. Penn himself approaches the dialogue in a genuine manner, but this merely leaves him looking a bit silly when we are asked to root for him in the protracted action sequences. The finale set in a bullring seems to go on for an age. We get that the actor has serious issues he wants to address, but this is the wrong place to bring them up. It dilutes them, and in turn leaves it hard to generate any enthusiasm for the outcome of the violence.
There is no doubt that Penn is convincing as an action hero, but he needs a film that will considerately deal with current affairs or conversely, he should do an all out bonkers flick. We can imagine it now… Crank 3 starring Oscar-winner Sean Penn. Now there’s a film we would pay good money to see.