Sean Penn‘s “The Last Face” is going to need a binding UN resolution to keep the critics from tearing it apart any worse than they already have.
The actor and filmmaker directed the romance about the head of an international aid organization (Charlize Theron) and a relief aid doctor (Javier Bardem) falling in love as they work to bring peace to the African continent and highlight the plight of refugees.
But early reviews out of Cannes are savaging the film, even going so far as to criticize the opening title card, which compares the conflict in South Sudan to the love “between a man … and a woman.”
“In his zeal to make an epic statement that is also a romantic dream, Penn throws just about everything at the wall,” TheWrap’s Ben Croll wrote in his review of the film. “Nothing sticks, and perhaps he realizes that. It would certainly explain the outrageous ending, which blows past earnest and into the realm of camp.”
Read more terrible reviews below.
Benjamin Lee of The Guardian:
“Penn’s first film as director since 2007’s ‘Into the Wild’ confirms all of our worst suspicions of his preachy, ham-fisted politics. It’s an extended Band Aid video, shoddily assembled to be screened at galas filled with the guilty elite sipping champagne while frowning at close-ups of tearful orphans.”
David Sexton of The Evening Standard:
“Although often ably filmed, it’s poorly edited, structured and acted. The cast make cod-profound statements about the conflict (‘Save them for what? What kind of world?’) and men and women (‘It’s not grabbing!’ ‘It’s loving!’), prompting derisive laughter at this morning’s press screening in Cannes, followed by booing. ‘The Last Face’ employs African suffering as a backdrop for romance, a white love story in a black war zone. Not all right.”
Eric Kohn of IndieWire:
“‘The Last Face’ takes such blunt assertions at face value. Without an ounce of irony, the movie tumbles in every direction, not only struggling to make its central romance hold water but to find a spark of intrigue in anything surrounding it. It’s unfortunate that Penn seems to think this half-baked approach does any service to its subject matter. As an activist, Penn has occasionally put himself in the line of fire for virtuous reasons, but this time it’s an accident of the highest order.”
Tim Robey of The Telegraph:
“Penn seems to be begging for credit, for being the type of caring-and-sharing guy to alert our attention to a continent’s woes, but then he consigns those very woes to thoughtless, backdroppy, vacuous oblivion. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if his old pal Bono showed up to lend a hand, flying over by private jet to drop some personalised aid packages. But then the hopeful orphans would open these, and they’d only contain CDs of The Joshua Tree.”
Owen Gleiberman of Variety:
“Penn would do well not to mistake his own global caring for an artistic impulse. ‘The Last Face’ was greeted with jeers at its premiere Cannes showing, and that’s because no matter how “well-meaning” a director may be, there’s something inherently eye-rolling about being asked to care about the tragedy of African children through the POV of two lovelorn glamourpusses. If you really take the message of the movie to heart, it just forces you to acknowledge that the story — to quote Humphrey Bogart — doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.”
David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter:
“[Penn’s] fifth feature, from a script by Erin Dignam loaded with platitudinous dialogue and shallow psychology, is arguably Penn’s first directorial outing that has pretty much nothing going for it. Even the handsome widescreen visuals of the wounded African landscapes — relentlessly accompanied by composer Hans Zimmer’s extended lecture in musical solemnity, or by on-the-nose vocals — are rendered uninteresting by Penn’s insistence on stretching every exchanged word or gesture to dreamy extremes of the most studious lyricism.”