The first reviews of Sean Penn’s “The Last Face” are in from the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and let’s just say they are something of a nightmare for the director. Starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem, the drama tells the love story between a director of an international aid agency and a relief aid doctor, set against the backdrop of war-torn African refugee camps. While Penn has proven some skillful directorial chops in the past (see “Into the Wild”), critics agree “The Last Face” is a major disaster.
In his D review, Indiewire’s own Eric Kohn writes, “Even without its mopey, painfully on-the-nose dialogue and ponderous story, ‘The Last Face’ sets itself up for failure with its premise, and Penn’s apparent inability to recognize it as such. It’s his worst movie.”
It seems that nearly every critic at the film’s premiere screening would agree. Giving the film one star in his review for The Guardian, Benjamin Lee states, “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.”
While you’d think that Theron and Bardem might be able to rise above the story, it appears the actors don’t fare any better. “For one thing, the love story never takes off,” writes Ben Croll of The Wrap. “There is next to no connection between Theron and Bardem, who are supposed to share an uncontrollable connection, but spend most of the time talking past each other and to The World.”
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, meanwhile, had perhaps the funniest dig at the movie. “Director Sean Penn has made his version of an Angelina Jolie movie,” he writes. “It’s a tale of war-torn Africa that’s really about two beautiful movie stars trying to save the world.”
But Tim Robey of The Telegraph has the best takeaway, extending the movie’s failure to the festival itself. “Both the festival and filmmakers might have been better off waiting another week, until the screens were empty and delegates had all gone home, before unveiling this thing, perhaps to a slightly less derisory audience of seagulls.”