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Review: 'The Last Face' falls flat

Posted Monday, September 4, 2017 at 6:56 PM Central
Last updated Thursday, September 7, 2017 at 9:07 AM Central

by John Couture

What do you get when you pair a couple of Academy Award winning actors with an Academy Award winning actor turned director? If you said, "an awards season contender that will appeal to all audiences," then you would be siding with logic. If, however, you were watching The Last Face, then you would have something different altogether.

Don't get me wrong, I love Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem has turned in some great work in the last decade, but something just seems off in The Last Face. The film is Director Sean Penn's follow-up to Into the Wild which is a film that I absolutely adored.

It seems to be a curious choice then that a decade later Penn would make this film his next directorial project. It seems that the world has changed a lot in the intervening ten years and the actor/director has made no secret of his political leanings. The backdrop of African genocide upon which the doctor on doctor love story is painted smacks of the heavy-handed message that Hollywood is known for.

The problem with The Last Face is that the film itself doesn't do much to spread the message as much as simply navel-gazing while the rather boring love story unfolds (or rather fails to do so). Again, the story of African genocide is so well-known that perhaps Penn is making a statement by failing to develop it. Perhaps in his eye, everything that needs to be said about it has already been said. That might be the case, but it does little to service the story.

While Theron and Bardem are capable of turning heads with even the most flimsy of scripts, I don't know if it's the writing or direction that fails them, but even their best effort couldn't save this film. At the best it's bad writing, at the worst, the film simply uses genocide as a plot device to make us care for a relationship that doesn't earn it on its own.

Ultimately, when the credits rolled, my biggest thought was how to get the last couple of hours of my life back. It was surely a disappointment and one that I hope doesn't speak to the future projects from the talent associated with this film. Into the Wild demonstrated such promise for Sean Penn the director, but I only hope that he is able to recapture that magic moving forward.

As for the acting talent, I'm confident that they will rebound nicely. Their bodies of work speak louder for their acting brilliance than the opposite and I'm sure that with a bit more selectivity in their choices, they will once again be on the lips of Oscar voters in the near future.

The Last Face is now available on DVD and Bluray.