The Last Face

 

star

 

 

Sean Penn’s fifth film as director is more of a pointless domestic drama than the profound contemplation on international injustice he hopes it might have been.

 

Last Face, The

Doctored injustice: Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem

 

The first feature directed by Sean Penn since his beautifully realised Into the Wild in 2007, The Last Face is a massive misstep. The opening lines ask us to compare the corrupted innocence of the Liberian civil war and the ongoing conflict in South Sudan to the brutality of love – in this case, between a pair of privileged activist doctors played by Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem. The influence of working on Terrence Malick's stunning The Tree of Life has clearly rubbed off on Penn. The Last Face feels 'artistic' merely for the sake of it, with blurred, slow and gratuitous shots, none of which help to tell the story. Attempts to put us deeper into the experience only succeed in taking us further out. In many ways, it feels like the work of a young filmmaker, eager to play in the sandbox, but clearly lacking mastery of the form. Rather than illuminating injustice in the world, which might lead to thoughtful analysis and action, the film condemns westerners for being complacent, while meandering along in a blurry, incoherent fog that does little to inspire.

 

The Last Face could have been a powerful demonstration of what the common man can do in the face of so much tragedy. It could have shed light on how beauty and grace can be found in even the darkest places. Such potential devolves into a pointless domestic drama that diminishes the very importance that Penn seems so desperate to convey.

 

The film is made up of a series of seemingly random sequences without a clearly defined narrative. The unnecessary non-linear timeline adds no meaningful value and the dreaded voice-over proceeds to tell us what has happened rather than show us. A montage late in the film feels more like an ad for Zales or the latest luxury car than a pivotal moment for the characters. It's clear that everyone involved was anxious and sincere in an attempt to illuminate conflict and promote action, but a concept isn't enough to tell a story. Action is inspired by a deep experience, which is unfortunately lacking here. The best shots of the film are fleeting, yet demonstrate the ironic contrast and tragic beauty found in the land and people. The most evocative moments are simply lost in woefully misguided execution.

 

CHAD KENNERK

 

Cast: Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jean Reno, Jared Harris, Sibongile Mlambo, Hopper Penn.

 

Dir Sean Penn, Pro Bill Gerber, Matt Palmieri and Bill Pohlad, Screenplay Erin Dignam, Ph Barry Ackroyd, Pro Des Andrew Laws, Ed Jay Cassidy, Music Hans Zimmer, Costumes Diana Cilliers.

 

FilmHaven Entertainment/Gerber Pictures/Matt Palmieri Productions/River Road Entertainment-Lionsgate.

130 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 12 May 2017. Cert. 15.