Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jean Reno, Jared Harris, Sibongile Mlambo
Written by: Erin Dignam
Directed by: Sean Penn
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence including disturbing images of war atrocities, language, and brief sexuality
Running Time: 131
Date: 07/28/2017
IMDB

The Last Face (2017)

1/2 Star (out of 4)

Sucking 'Face'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sean Penn's fifth feature film as director, this romantic war drama is an all-around dud; it's poorly shot and edited, crushingly heavy-handed, woefully misguided, and, to top it off, miserably long.

In The Last Face, Wren Petersen (Charlize Theron) has taken over her father's organization Doctors of the World. In 2003, she goes to Liberia to aid during the wartime devastation there. She also meets handsome surgeon Miguel Leon (Javier Bardem), and after successfully delivering a woman's baby, they begin an affair.

Their relationship is complicated not only by their different beliefs — Miguel refuses to get too personally involved in his work — and by Wren's concern that Miguel is a "player." Her fears are confirmed when one of his former lovers (Adèle Exarchopoulos) comes forward to say that she is HIV-positive. Eventually they part, but find themselves together again, in Cape Town, years later. Can they rekindle their spark?

Penn is clearly talented, but with The Last Face he seems to have let his humanitarian beliefs get in the way of his artistic instincts. He sheds light on some of the world's darkest atrocities, but in a melodramatic, hysterical way that undermines them. He also bafflingly uses the old "white savior" technique, telling a story of another culture's struggles through the eyes of privileged whites or westerners, which is outdated at best and insulting at worst.

Then, even if this story were worth watching anymore, Penn aggravatingly favors wobbly, shaky camerawork, restlessly roaming and wandering as if terribly bored. He also frequently uses a "rolling focus" technique, which leaves important bits of the frame out of focus.

In the midst of all this aggravation and noise, not even Oscar-winners Charlize Theron or Javier Bardem can save the day; their shallow characters are little more than place-holders. Talented actors like Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jean Reno, and Jared Harris barely register at all.

At least bad movie lovers will thrill to the bizarre teeth-brushing seduction scene, wherein Bardem and Theron turn each other on with toothpaste dripping from their chins. But all others should avoid this and seek enlightenment elsewhere.

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