Sean Penn told the Financial Times that he had a lot riding on the Cannes premiere of his new directorial effort, “The Last Face.” If he was counting on gaining support in Cannes for his film, he’s in a lot of trouble. It was one of the worst receptions of a film I’ve ever seen in Cannes, and he still has to do a press conference later in the day. Here are a few reasons why the movie failed so badly.
- Here’s a film about the ravages of war in Africa, mainly in Liberia and the South Sudan. But unlike last year’s “Beasts of No Nation,” there are no significant roles for black people.
- Instead, Penn focuses his story on a love affair between two doctors who work in refugee camps. They’re played by Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem, and the central argument in their relationship is whether they could do more good at the United Nations in Switzerland or helping the wounded in Africa. Theron’s character prefers the halls of the U.N., while Bardem prefers the camps. They argue and argue. But the dialogue is dreadful. And most of the words spoken in the film are mumbled voiceovers.
- The supporting cast is equally awful, including poor Jean Reno, who utters some of the most ridiculous lines ever penned for the screen.
- The movie features lots of surgeries, with an approach that almost seems like war-wound porn. We see legs being chopped off. We see a Caesarean section done in the jungle, on a woman who has had her throat slit. We see gaping wounds in legs and stomachs and elsewhere. It’s rather clear that Penn is trying to show us the horrors of war, but he goes too far.
- The movie is so didactic that it ends with a lecture, given by Theron at a gathering of philanthropists, where she talks of the dreams of refugees and how they’re just like us. But lets make this clear: While Penn’s intentions might be good and warm-hearted, his movie is woefully tone-deaf. Cannes is the temple of art films, and there’s an artful way to tell the tragic story of African wars. See the aforementioned “Beasts of No Nation.” This is didacticism at its worst. It’s hard to believe that Penn, who has been known for his philanthropic works, hasn’t been warned about the “white savior” complex. But he walks right into it in “The Last Face.” He might want to return to acting.