Sean Penn’s The Last Face is being greeted with a lot of bash since making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last week where it was booed after it premiered and slammed as “‘insulting refugee porn’
The Last Face centers on two NGO doctors, played by Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem, who initially fall in love while assisting refugees in Western Africa in 2004. Ten years later, Bardem’s character finds Theron’s character to try to rekindle their lost love. The film then deploys a series of flashbacks to explain why they ended their original affair in the first place — although, when you finally find out, you really don’t care. Bardem and Theron have almost zero chemistry together, and it’s difficult to feel sympathy for the couple when their modern-day life on a beautiful South African estate is intercut with the horrors they experienced in the field. The Independent chimed: “The real doctors who work in the most blighted parts of the world should be celebrated – but not in this way” The film is being panned because it uses the backdrop of a tragedy to play out a tortured loved story between two doctors, dubbed by the Independent review as ill-advised. “No doubt the real doctors who work in conflict zones are heroes that need to be celebrated, but not in this way,” the review notes. The review jabs: “Penn has been here before: last year's risible thriller The Gunman, a film he was heavily involved with behind the scenes, was set in the world of NGOs. But this somehow feels worse. Set across a decade, Charlize Theron plays Wren Petersen, a doctor who becomes embroiled with Médecins Du Monde, the organisation founded back in 1980 dedicated to providing healthcare for the vulnerable and displaced in developing nations.” The Guardian quips that “African conflict is aphrodisiac for white people in Sean Penn's crass romance.” The Irish Times says “nothing can disguise the jaw-dropping imbecility of the film and slams Penn for delivering a film that suggests he may need to stick to his investigative reporting day job.” The Hollywood Reporter while paying homage to Penn’s body of work, slams the film for lacking inspiration. “Despite an impassioned speech by Theron's character in which she urges wealthy philanthropists to see refugees as people with lives and families and dreams "just like us," the film rarely gives individual identities to African characters. The chief exception is a tense scene near the end depicting an ugly confrontation with a female-led rebel militia posse done up like scary club kids. Elsewhere, the Africans are just bleeding wallpaper.” HR writes that the film’s arrival in the final days of the Cannes competition was preceded by toxic word of mouth, and the derisive cackles at the first press screening started when opening onscreen text over a map of Africa likened the Liberian Civil War and the ongoing present-day conflict in South Sudan to the brutality of impossible love … between a man … and a woman. “Unfortunately, things get only sporadically better from there in a movie that at times recalls the similarly languid Angelina-and-Brad exercise in emotional scab-picking, By the Sea. At least that stinker had the good taste not to co-opt humanitarianism as background texture.” The Hollywood Reporter penned that while there's no reason to doubt Penn’s sincerity for the film, “when someone rails about "a world under attack from impatient, non-solution-oriented critics," the self-righteous tone certainly rankles”. Perhaps the most pointed criticism of the film comes from vox.com which raves: “Sean Penn’s The Last Face isn’t very good, and he doesn’t want to talk about it.” Vox says the positive notices for the film have been few and far between but when pressed about the initial reaction to the film, “the not-so jovial Penn attempted to give the most subdued answer possible,” according to Vox. "I finished the film. It's not a discussion I can be of any value to. I'm certain that everyone is going to be well entitled to their response,” Penn was quoted as saying.