The Last Face (2 stars)

The Last Face

Cannes 2016: Heartfelt but hopeless drama from Sean Penn, with Charlize Theron

The road to movie mediocrity is paved with good intentions in The Last Face. Sean Penn’s first directorial venture since 2007’s Into the Wild attempts to address the complex issues of war-torn Africa through a tempestuous love affair between dedicated, dishy doctor Miguel (Javier Bardem) and glamorous international aid organiser Wren (Charlize Theron).

It is an unpersuasive oil and water mix of a film with sanctimonious lectures on the failings of post-colonial western democracies mingled with turgid romantic clichés and the kind of dialogue that makes your toes curl. Erin Dignam’s script must shoulder a large part of the blame as it provides precious few opportunities for a stellar supporting cast (Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jean Reno, Jared Harris), fails to create a major, complex African character and saddles Theron with father figure issues and leaden lines like, ‘You don’t love me, you don’t even know me!’

You assume that Penn felt the central romance was a way to draw mainstream audiences into a film addressing the violence and bloodshed in South Sudan, Liberia and across Africa. Instead, the focus becomes all about the tear-stained relationship between Miguel and Wren and the various complicating factors that stand in the way of them finding true happiness, as the bullets fly and the blood flows around them. Everything else slips down the agenda and, to add insult to injury, the romance itself isn’t that engaging, despite the efforts of Theron and Bardem to create some spark.

A rousing final speech at a gala dinner is used to remind us that all refugees are humans with hopes and dreams like the rest of us. It is a laudable sentiment typical of a film that has its heart in the right place but allows its dramatic priorities to wander all over the map.

Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release TBC.

The Last Face

  • 2 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • Directed by: Sean Penn
  • Cast: Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopolous, Jean Reno

In war-torn Africa, dedicated and dishy medic Miguel (Bardem) gets together with glamorous international aid organiser Wren (Theron), and the crises of post-colonial western democracies are dramatised with lines like 'You don't love me, you don't even know me!' Well-intentioned but turgid romance which utterly wastes a…