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Sean Penn channels his inner Robert Smith in this zany, left-field melodrama that surprisingly turns into a revenge thriller half-way through....
Anchor Bay / 118 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: March 12, 2013
If director Paolo Sorrentino intended for his This Must Be the Place to inspire confusion and bizarre intrigue in those who watch it, then his work is a staggering, unique success. This Blu-ray Disc’s cover art makes it seem like what we’re in for is a saga of life on the fringes of rock and roll with an androgynous-looking Sean Penn taking us through the trials and tribulations of his mopey, Goth world, but inspiring connections between Penn’s Cheyenne character and Robert Smith from The Cure is only the tip of the iceberg.
Just when you think The Must Be the Place is about to settle into a holding pattern around Cheyenne’s relatively successful yet ultimately unfulfilling career as a somewhat notable indie-rock king, the movie turns itself on its head and instead becomes a kind of extended music-video Holocaust revenge tale (seriously!). I’ll say this for the picture: Sean Penn is up to the task, and he infuses his character with a broad-stroked authenticity – never willing to descend fully into cliché, Penn’s Cheyenne is a broken, troubled, inspired, talented mess of a dude, and as Sorrentino’s story swirls around him, it’s often fascinating to watch him keep up with the events at hand.
Cheyenne lives in Dublin and is pretty much just going through the motions of post-rock life: he has some money, a wife, a nice enough house – he won’t have to wait tables any time soon, at least. But then word comes that his estranged father has fallen ill, and by the time Cheyenne makes it to NYC to see him, the poor guy has already passed on. As Cheyenne starts to learn about the life his dad led – and how he was secretly proud of his son’s eyeliner-laden notoriety in the rock world – he discovers a far more volatile piece of information: his dad survived the Holocaust, and he had been tracking down one of the men who tortured him in a Nazi camp in the later years of his life, though when he actually discovered the guy’s identity, he couldn’t bring himself to actually face him.
This leads Cheyenne, newly inspired by a new round of posthumous adoration from his papa, to dedicate himself to making good on his dad’s search – he tracks the war criminal down with an intent to kill. I feel like I’ve already given too much of This Must Be the Place away, but trust me: there are twists and turns aplenty in addition to the wild cards I’ve already hinted at. As a movie, This Must Be the Place is unpredictable (which is great) yet far too often didactic (which tethers it Narratively). There are many risks taken in terms of its cinematic construction, but even though the picture keeps you guessing, it unfortunately ends up feeling a bit like too little, too late.
Yet even with its shortcomings, This Must Be the Place will surprise you…