“The Gunman” is an independent film that follows Detective Ben (Sean Patrick Flanery), a father and husband who works for the Austin Police Department’s Missing Children’s division. Ben’s life comes crashing down when his wife falls prey to a child predator, and his daughter Cassie (Emma Nicolas) is left traumatized. Life doesn’t get any better: Ben is subsequently partnered up with the inexperienced Daphne (Joey Lauren Adams), who seems to have gotten her Detective’s badge based on the legendary qualifications of her often-talked about cop father. The duo’s first case together is to catch a masked vigilante running around Austin offing pedophiles. Actually, no one seems especially interested in catching the serial killer except Daphne. In fact, the cops are so disinterested that they have even “forgotten” to take fingerprints at a couple of the crime scenes.
Doesn’t sound like half a bad movie, right? Unfortunately for second-time director Millican, the execution is not there. For a movie about a serial killer, “The Gunman” is completely devoid of the grit and dirt one expects from a movie with such a premise and subject matter. The film’s tone is all wrong, and Millican’s film looks and feels more like a Lifetime Original Movie (and in fact, the film’s original title “A Promise Kept” would seem to indicate it was always headed for such an arena) instead of an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Every serial killer movie doesn’t have to take after David Fincher’s “Seven”, of course, but the fact that “The Gunman” is so tonally “off” does present a jarring obstacle.
Which brings me to my biggest problem with the film: I was looking forward to it. Although that might not mean a whole lot to you, let me assure you that I don’t say it flippantly. I have been hunting for “The Gunman” for years. As a big fan of Sean Patrick Flannery (the guy’s turn as young Indiana Jones all those years ago on ABC simply made me a lifelong fan, what can I say), I was predisposed to like the film (see my review of “Demon Hunter” for proof). So it would have taken a great deal of effort or quite a bit of carelessness on the filmmakers’ part to make me dislike “The Gunman”. Alas, it was not meant to be.
“The Gunman” is a confused and unsatisfying mess, hindered terribly by amateurish scriptwriting mistakes. There is a major plot twist at the end that should have been a major revelation (which has nothing to do with the identity of the vigilante), but Millican, in his infinite wisdom, sells out on the twist less than 10 minutes into the film. Why? I can’t possibly fathom or even hazard a guess. As well, I easily guessed the identity of the vigilante the first time he showed up onscreen to match karate chops with a pedophile. You can hide the killer in a mask and bodysuit, but there are certain characteristics in a walk, a punch, and a kick that you simply cannot hide. Once you have distinguished an important trait of the vigilante, you will be left with only two possible candidates — and one is easily crossed out. I will say no more.
I do not mean to be harsh on Millican and company, as they clearly seem to be attempting something substantive with their film. The premise is intriguing, the casting is solid (with the exception of Joey Lauren Adams, whose squeaky voice is hard to take seriously as coming out of a police Detective’s mouth), but “The Gunman” is, in the end, torpedoed by questionable choices. The fault lays with writer/director Daniel Millican, the man responsible for making those choices. “The Gunman’s” lack of a budget notwithstanding (as there are plenty of good low-budget films out there, and Millican, while lacking resources, at least had a tremendous lead in Flanery), this is an embarrassing misfire. I am doubly disappointed that a film I was so looking forward to would fall so flat.
Daniel Millican (director) / Daniel Millican (screenplay)
CAST: Sean Patrick Flanery …. Ben
Joey Lauren Adams …. Daphne
Mimi Rogers …. Eve Richards
Brian McNamara …. Roland
Emma Nicolas …. Cassie Simms
Jeff Speakman …. Scott Sherwin