“The Gunman” is a fast-moving thriller. A rapid tempo is established in the opening scene that keeps the beat all through the film — the action and the pace of the story never lag. Director Pierre Morel (“Taken”) and editor Frederic Thoraval skillfully let the tale unwind with great economy of detail, keeping the rhythm going. A fleeting glance of a key character’s face in a crucial location gives us all the information we need to know. The sound of horses’ hooves filtering through the background noise of a tense scene announces the unexpected arrival of a character who is the center of the conversation. The action scenes are skillfully choreographed to keep the momentum flowing and to keep us on edge. Cinematographer Flavio Martinez Labiano has rendered colorful panoramas of Barcelona and the African Congo as a backdrop.

Sean Penn, a producer of the film who also stars in it, works his magic in making us feel that we own his character’s PTSD syndrome — his headaches are palpable. Idris Elba and Javier Bardem turn in superb performances. This movie is not comfortable to watch — it’s not meant to be. However, it does have a message beyond good-guy-versus-bad-guy.

Jasmine Trinca, who has appeared in European films since 2001 and won many awards and nominations, is refreshing as the resilient love interest — she’s a doctor working for a humanitarian organization in Africa. The only element of the story that seems difficult to process is when her character, who has no fear of working in a dangerous and remote area for those in need, becomes a frightened, cowering victim in another scenario. Later, she does regain her wits and acts decisively under threat. I suspect that the filmmakers succumbed briefly to using an audience-pleasing “damsel in distress” formula at one point in the movie.

The narrative in “The Gunman” carries through smoothly to the end. One of the “bad guys” is dealt justice in such a dramatic way that the scene draws gasps and applause from the audience.

This is an international story within a backdrop of real politics in a region that remains conflicted today, its citizens constantly under threat. The story is fiction — but it mirrors many real scenarios that are playing out currently in that part of the world.

Rated R. 115 minutes.

Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at kwboole@gmail.com.

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