My affinity for Sean Penn as an actor peaked well over a decade ago, fostered by his run of great performances in seemingly every genre from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. I still think he can be great, but so many of his recent roles have just felt like extensions of his less-than-charming public persona — that of the taciturn, marble-mouthed, know-it-all butthole. So, I desperately wanted this trailer to be patently absurd, as potentially FUBAR’d as Sean Penn looks in the header photo, just to see him fail miserably at something whimsiquirkilicious. Schadenfreude is not a pretty thing, but it seems to sustain us as a species. Yet, while Penn is clearly playing against his own type (Milk also being a recent exception), the movie appears to be somewhat more straightforward than his character’s hairdo.
As straightforward as movies about aging rock stars who search for answers about the Nazi that destroyed their fathers’ lives, and circuitously ruined their own, can be, anyway. This Must Be The Place is Italian director Paolo Sorrentino’s English-language film debut, and I haven’t seen any of his previous efforts, but this trailer has me interested in checking out the man’s work. And not solely because I love the weird. Watch:
So, no, Penn isn’t actually playing the Cure frontman, but his character, Cheyenne, is so clearly modeled after that aging rock star you may be excused if you found it distracting for half the trailer. (I did, and the foreign subtitles didn’t help, either, especially when the dialogue couldn’t be heard due to some unfortunate marble-y line readings. Oy!) Though, as Vulture astutely notes, his voice and mannerisms belie a certain deceased King of Pop influence, too. Which, after the horrors wrought by Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and considering Penn also looks very Edward Scissorhandsian, might be another distracting, if not apt, performance choice.
Cheyenne really is goin’ a’Nazi huntin’, though. The concept itself strikes me as very Friends of Sundance, but reviews out of Cannes were neither hateful nor stellar. I will be very disappointed if the movie isn’t either brilliant or garbage — the middle is simply too stale for the subject matter. With dialogue like “Finding myself? I’m in New Mexico, not India,” in response to a question if Cheyenne’s quest is a mid-life crisis, the script might be pretty solid. It does tiptoe the preciousness line, and the funny thing is, I can hear that spoken in Penn’s natural, barely-contained-rage cadence, and it is neither witty nor clever. But as Cheyenne? It works. Or seems to. Maybe…
Here’s the poster, I kind of love it:
At the very least, we might finally have a worthy successor to We’re No Angels, which is my personal favorite Penn role. It’s also inarguably the best Sean Penn movie about escaped convicts disguised as Catholic priests ever. Seriously, argue that. I dare you.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, co-hosts the internet radio show/podcast We’re Not Fanboys, and can be also be argued with over on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He kind of wishes this movie were about Robert Smith killing Nazis, but in some sort of filmic rumination on the effects of time travel and fixed history in regards to killing Adolf Hitler to prevent the Holocaust and World War II.