Out this week (as of 27th November in fact)
Few actors could play an ageing former rock-star hunting down a Nazi in Arizona, but Sean Penn does it with the fading lady voice of Quietin Crisp, the hair and make-up of Robert Smith and the blunt honesty of Will Oldham.
Fittingly, Oldham’s song makes an appearance in the show and along with Talking Head’s David Byrne, he’s created much of the film’s original soundtrack, giving it the dose of nostalgia needed to send Penn, as the rocker Cheyenne, back to America after the death of his Jewish father. Sorrentino gets to showcase his love for the long pan – mirroring Cheyenne’s prepetual boredom – and crane shots that take a slow drop over a balcony, skate through fields of corn, over walls and into cemeteries. He also loves the long reveal and characters in isloation, but ultimately, he loves David Byrne.
Cheyenne is soon reunited with Byrne, playing himself, at a concert where he performs This Must Be The Place and listens to Penn deliver a loud assessment of himself before he goes off to hunt down his father’s former persecutor. Thankfully, the story isn’t clogged with self-discovery and doesn’t smack us around the head with soul searching of it all. It succeeds in part thanks to Sorrentino’s script, written with Umberto Contarello, which allows Cheyenne to relish every opportunity for faux-philosophy and some straight talking to break up his endless days.
But the script also provides a few lacklustre characters whose storylines we never really get the chance to invest in. There’s intrigue, sure – who’s Tony? And why has he run away? – but also, why should we care?
There is however, a good balance between these depressed goth-like people and the loud, overly confident characters that cheer things right up. Francesca McDormand is believable as Cheyenne’s kooky but frank, fire-fighting wife, Simon Delany plays his delightfully delusional sex-obsessed friend Jeffrey, and Shea Whigham appears as a slick American who’s a little overly precious about his pick-up truck. And this is all before a priceless cameo from Harry Dean Stanton as the guy who invented suitcases with wheels.
The problem is that the story doesn’t rest with these gems; it ploughs on with the moody goths and because we don’t care enough about them, the concluding scene ends on a flat note that we could kind of see coming.
More LFF reviews can be found on the Spoonfed London Film Festival homepage.