There are movies that arrive with bad buzz, and then there’s “The Last Face,” Sean Penn’s now-infamous romance between aid workers crossing African conflict zones. The film has been moved to a summer release, and will come out on VOD first, according to reps for the title and its U.S. distributor, Saban Films.
The decision was made “months ago due to talent schedules,” Saban reps told IndieWire. No new date has been set.
The film, Penn’s fifth directorial effort, scored two bankable leads in Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem — but faced a firing squad when it premiered at Cannes last May, where it competed for the Palme d’Or and was greeted with a rapturous chorus of boos. Critics chided Penn for making a treacly white-savior movie that attempts to shame its audience with bloody war imagery. “The narrative panders on every level,” wrote IndieWire’s Eric Kohn.
The movie didn’t fare much better when it opened in France in January. Cahiers du Cinema called it “possibly the worst film in the world.” The film has also opened in Spain and a handful of other foreign territories, but has only grossed $31,350 to date, and sits at a mere 11% on Rotten Tomatoes.
In a Variety story earlier this week, Saban Films president Bill Bromiley revealed plans to position “The Last Face” as a premium VOD release — meaning it will be available on VOD platforms first — with a theatrical component. “We’ve worked with Sean and convinced him that that is the best way to go,” he said. “We all believe that it’s going to do very well in that space.”
The distributor has been focused on genre fare and mid-budget star-driven titles, but it has found mixed results with theatrical releases, most of which it has handled by four-walling theaters. Saban’s most recent U.S. theatrical was release was the well-reviewed horror film “The Girl With All The Gifts.” As with most Saban titles, box office figures were not available for the title.
The trajectory for “The Last Face” seems destined to repeat that of the 2015 drama “The Sea of Trees,” another high-profile director-star combo (Gus Van Sant and Matthew McConaughey) pairing earnest storytelling with an exotic setting (Mount Fuji, Japan) that flopped at Cannes before limping into theaters with a 12% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Distributor A24 finally put out “The Sea of Trees” as part of its DirecTV deal in the dead of last August, when it grossed only $825,577 theatrically after becoming available on the VOD platform.