The Last Face (2017; Sean Penn)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, July 28, at the Presidio in San Francisco, and on VOD services.
This is every bit the self-righteous howler we all hoped and feared after its hostile reception at Cannes 2016. The Last Face makes the humiliating narcissism of Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea look timid by comparison. It would take a proper Dare Daniel review to catalog every embarrassment, so I’ll single out a few of my favorites:
1) Dental hygiene as foreplay.
Yes, there is a scene in this film where Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem’s painfully dedicated relief aid doctors initiate sex by flirtatiously brushing their teeth. I just thank God cinema wasn’t alive to see this.
Penn’s overuse of absurd dramatic silences and companion shock cuts extends from the nonsensical opening crawl to the overwrought conclusion. It’s the sort of thing you might expect from a film school freshman, not from an accomplished director. Not…from…an accomplished…DIRECTOR!
3) Red Hot Chili Peppers sex scene.
Let me be clear about one thing: The Last Face features a sex scene set to a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. Have I mentioned yet that this “sweeping love story” unfurls against a backdrop of bloody African genocide, and that the conclusion involves a child choosing to shoot himself in the head rather than murder his father? But yeah, Peppers sex scene! Sweet!
Theron and Penn are both deeply committed to these causes in real life. However, the film’s bumbling mix of drippy romance, fetishized violence and self-serving sermonizing in a context-deficient void only makes a mockery of that commitment. One character delivers a rambling monologue about how magical it is to dance with a girl with a slashed vagina, and he comes as close as anyone to articulating the film’s pedantic yet psychotic worldview. After a while, you get the feeling that black bodies are just indistinguishable, awareness-raising props to Penn. How else to explain his pointless wallow through Mel Gibson-like viscera?
The Last Face doesn’t do much for the displaced people it depicts, but it offers a feast for Bad Movie aficionados.