[Review] – This Must Be The Place

12 Nov

Title: This Must Be the Place
Year: 2012
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Writers: Paolo Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello, based on a story by Mr. Sorrentino
Starring: Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Harry Dean Stanton, David Byrne
MPAA Rating: R, language, some sexual content and brief disturbing images
Runtime: 118 min
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Metacritic: 58

To say I’ve been tremendously curious to check out Paolo Sorrentino‘s This Must Be the Place would be something of an understatement. What’s more is that the curiosity has had quite some time to grow, since this first premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and then had another showing this year at Sundance, so it’s really been more than a year and a half since I first heard of this film.

A big part of that curiosity comes from the fact that Mr. Sorrentino’s last film, Il Divo, about former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, was utterly mesmerizing. That film also screened at Cannes, where it won the Jury Prize from a jury that was headed by Sean Penn who told Mr. Sorrentino he really wanted to work with him. So Mr. Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello went ahead and started writing a film with Mr. Penn in mind. Now, a film from Paolo Sorrentino starring Sean Penn would be enough to pike my interest, but the plot was what really got me.

You see, Mr. Sorrentino had always been fascinated by Nazi war criminals who kept their secrets and went on living ordinary lives. Mr. Penn would play a man who wants to find the Nazi who tormented his father all those years ago. But not just any man, Mr. Sorrentino created the character he thought would be the last person you’d imagine embarking on such a quest, a wealthy  former rockstar who’s just super slow and lazy and who’s bored in his retirement and decides to take on that mission. Mr. Penn embodies the role, rocking a look that’s so clearly been influenced by Robert Smith from The Cure, and the result is pretty memorable.

I say memorable because that’s what this film is, that’s why from that plot description alone I’ve been anticipating this one for over a year, but I do have to say that this isn’t as great a film as Il Divo was. Still, it was undeniably awesome to meet this 50 year-old guy, Cheyenne, who still dresses in this goth attire even though he’s retired, living off his royalties in good ol’ Dublin. He wasn’t really on speaking terms with his father but once he dies Cheyennes goes to New York and finds out his father’s obsession with finding the man who had humiliated him decades ago. Cheyenne picks up right where his dad left off and starts on a trip across America to find a Nazi war criminal.

Like I said, however, this isn’t as great as Il Divo. It’s a special film that I’m pretty sure I will remember for a while to come, but there are a few instances in which the movie just doesn’t entirely know how to get past this bizarre premise into something more. Which, you could argue, is just as fine because of what Mr. Sorrentino and Mr. Penn do with this strange things, often turning them into moments that hold this aching beauty that really left me dazzled. What’s more is that I don’t quite know how to articulate why exactly it dazzled me, all I know is that it did.

One of the reasons why I don’t know why it dazzled me is the fact that I kind of felt like this worked better in those separate little moments of greatness is stumbled upon that it necessarily did as a whole. I loved the moments with Cheyenne’s wife, played by the fantastic Frances McDormand, a woman who’s clearly in love with him, both with the person he was once and with the person he’s become. There’s even David Byrne as himself, which was great considering the movie takes its title from a song he made with his Talking Heads and he wrote original pieces for this one.

I loved some of those moments but a part of me felt that, when they were added together it was easy to pinpoint loose ends and see parts where the movie had gone off an unnecessary tangent. Still, I’m nitpicking here, this is a film that has far more things in its favor than it does against it. To begin with: it’s really, really cool. I mean that, visually this film just oozes cool, though of course that shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve seen Mr. Sorrentino’s past films. It’s also bursting with a very human warmth that probably comes from the fact that even if the scope of the trip Cheyenne takes is pretty huge we’re still always grounded in a beautifully intimate tale.

Trust me, by the way, when I speak of the scope. The stuff Mr. Sorrentino does with the wholly Americana landscape provided in This Must Be the Place is great and shows a kind of fascination with the country that I think only foreign filmmakers can achieve. Most amazingly, however, is that it’s all not just wasted with the locations, but I really do believe Mr. Sorrentino captured the essence of the people and of the language ever so exquisitely. Not to mention that, as with every great road movie, as we move from one location to another the internal journey of our character is also altered.

Then there’s Mr. Penn, who I haven’t really gotten into here. His performance here will probably have a place when I make my year best-of list; it’s just so perfectly nuanced and he just makes the character work with a performance that’s wonderful in how you can just never take your eyes off him. Everything from his voice to how he moves to his eyes, he’s perfect here.

I’ve now written close to 1’000 words about this movie and I still can’t quite articulate why this film moved me and dazzled me so, I just loved Cheyenne. I think that pretty much sums it up, I was in awe of how Mr. Penn created this character and I really cared for him. So, yes, I think that suffices, I just loved this film quite a bit and I will remember it and a part of me thinks it will achieve some kind of cult status in some circles and if The Criterion Collection decides to release it I think it’ll be a worthy addition to their orgasmic catalogue. And that, ladies and gents, is ultimately the biggest endorsement I can give a movie.

Grade: A-

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