Sean Penn wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms in Cannes where his socio-political romantic drama The Last Face was shown, and saying that is it was not received well would be an understatement. In fact, the movie was so bad that as soon as the credits started rolling, the audience booed. Adding to the tension was his ex-fiancee Charlize Theron, who stars in the movie opposite Javier Bardem, and was reported to be just as uncomfortable with his presence and the lackluster reception as he was. The Guardian’s review said that if the film was picked up by Netflix, it would be lucky.
— Daily Mail Celebrity (@DailyMailCeleb) May 20, 2016
Reports of the ex-lovebirds avoiding eye contact and staying as far away as from each other as possible during the various red carpet, photo calls, and press interviews were somewhat buffered by the embrace the two exchanged after they left the unfortunate screening. It was a compassionate gesture as the film was utterly and completely destroyed by those in attendance, not just for the directing, but the storyline, casting, dialogue, and backdrop. The bulk of the criticism was focused on the notion that human suffering in Africa as a backdrop for a romantic drama with no real black characters was a pompous, appalling disaster. It was even suggested that the film was the cause of Sean Penn and Charlize Theron’s break up.
Sean Penn’s THE LAST FACE. Unforgivably dreadful. Well-intended refugee drama let down in every area. Staggeringly bad. #Cannes2016
— Donald Clarke (@DonaldClarke63) May 20, 2016
Sean Penn looked appropriately dejected as he fielded questions by the Cannes press corps regarding the heavy criticism the movie received. Always the outspoken figure, he seemed resigned to the failure and didn’t bother to protest too loudly, although he did manage to bring our current political climate into the discussion.
“I think it’s important to entertain if entertainment isn’t synonymous with Donald Trump. Too much of film; I think we’ve lost sense of — it’s almost as if Greek tragedy is forgotten…To find beauty in things is the way to fix things. I think what we’re calling beauty today is a perversion of it, and that’s lamentable.”
The Last Face is Penn’s fifth directorial effort and analyst thought there should have been more focus on local politics and less on white peoples’ problems, though many just couldn’t get around how unauthentic it felt and how tacky the idea of falling in love in such a volatile environment seemed. Penn, a political activist as well as an actor and director, explained his decision to make the movie in the same environment as The Gunman, a movie he headlined last year.
“I approach the process looking at a world, where the definition of empowerment have great accepted successes, there’s a strange dichotomy where the world is on its hardest times and more people are suffering. With a film (like this) love as it is in war, how these things blend; they constantly interest me.”
Penn is accustomed to negative attention, which he has had plenty of lately. His relationship with Charlize Theron ended almost a year ago and not on a high note, and then there was the interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán for Rolling Stone. The circumstances by which Penn acquired the interview from the man who is considered the most powerful drug lord in the history of the world was questionable — using the kingpin’s crush on Kate del Castillo to loosen him up — and eventually lead to his latest capture.
Critics are normally pretty good to Sean Penn. He received high praise for directing Into the Wild, as well as The Indian Runner, and The Pledge. He has been collecting acting awards for the past 30-years, starting with a Best Actor Award the Berlin Film Festival in 1995 for Dead Man Walking. While he should have gotten an Oscar for I Am Sam, he finally received one for Mystic River in 2003. There is no doubt that he is an exceptional actor and passionate and compassionate human being, and it really resonates when witnessing a collective hammering by the media.
[Tristan Fewings/Getty Images]