Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Italy/France/Ireland, 2011. Indigo Film, Lucky Red, Medusa Film, ARP Sélection, France 2 Cinéma, Element Pictures, Bord Scannan na hEireann / Irish Film Board, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Eurimages Council of Europe, Section 481, Sky, Canal+, CinéCinéma, France Télévision, Intesa San Paolo, Pathé. Screenplay by Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello. Cinematography by Luca Bigazzi. Produced by Francesca Cima, Nicola Giuliano, Andrea Occhipinti, Mario Spedaletti. Music by David Byrne, Will Oldham. Production Design by Stefania Cella. Costume Design by Karen Patch. Film Editing by Cristiano Travaglioli. Cannes Film Festival 2011.
Sean Penn plays an aging Robert Plant-like rock star who has left the business and lives off his riches in a small Irish town with his firefighter wife (Frances McDormand). He spends days with his few friends, among them a groupie girl and a chatty, womanizing bloke. Penn’s thin, reedy voice flatly responds to other people’s conversations, his demeanor completely at odds with his eccentric appearance of teased black hair, eyeliner and nail polish. McDormand loves him but suspects he is too bored for his own good, so no surprise that the news of his father dying takes Penn not only to New York for a long overdue reunion but further on to adventure. After he learns that his father spent years chasing down a Nazi war criminal who was responsible for his being tortured at Auschwitz, he undergoes a journey into the heart of the Midwest, discovering his target’s family members as he digs for clues. The most shocking thing about a film with a plot this juicy is just how disconnected and dull the whole thing is: Penn’s performance is committed to an emotional monotony that keeps him from being sympathetic (even when we learn about the tragedy that took him off the stage), while the various geographical changes are jarring and don’t build up a sense of process. It feels more like you’re switching channels than you are moving to the next stage of the game, with director Paolo Sorrentino taking up the usual habit of European directors, filming America’s heartland like it’s a ghoulish amusement park. There are a lot of memorable images and beautiful shots, and McDormand’s feisty presence provides relief, but it ends without emotional payoff and many parts are obscure to the point that they frustrate instead of mystify.