This Must Be the Place is a film which frustrated me. In amongst its less appealing aspects are some great camera work, interesting ideas and flawless deadpan performance from Sean Penn but this is all stifled by a script which doesn’t know what it wants to be and despite introducing some heavy topics, doesn’t have anything to say. The film centres on an aging and bored American Rock Star called Cheyenne (Sean Penn). Cheyenne, still dressed in his Goth rock attire, shuffles around his Irish Mansion and into town where he stares aimlessly at supermarket shelves. His lack of vigour is stark contrast to the joyful expressions of his wife Jane (Frances McDormand) who occasionally attempts to remove the gloom from her husband’s life. One day Cheyenne decides he is going to attempt to reconcile with his estranged father and travels back to New York to see him. Arriving too late he instead takes it upon himself to go on a road trip and track down the 90 year old ex-Nazi who persecuted his father in Auschwitz.
The film has a central plot which although occasionally flags, is fairly interesting and the idea of a jaded Rock Star tracking down a geriatric Nazi is at least original. A problem arises with the number of subplots which are introduced and never resolved. Various people enter Cheyenne’s life and disappear without closure or hang around with the film failing to provide and ending to their story. I found this exasperating and at times also confusing. One of Cheyenne’s only friends is a young Goth called Mary (Eve Hewson) who he tries to set up with a kid who works at the mall. This story was quite sweet but never went anywhere. There is another story about a woman he meets on the road which just fizzled out and a third about an up and coming band which went nowhere at all. I don’t mind a sup plot which is forgotten as long as it adds something. Only the tentative romance of Mary and her admirer bought anything worthwhile to the movie.
For a film about a musician, the soundtrack didn’t impress me. Talking Heads’ David Byrne composed new compositions and arranged the soundtrack but nothing stood out. It just washed over me and was instantly forgettable. Although the music wasn’t great, there was some delightful camerawork. Italian director Paolo Sorrentino captures some stunning views of the American road and some interesting shots of Ireland too which include a street almost engulfed by a giant and modern sport’s stadium. The composition is visually pleasing and the disparity between the buildings is striking. In addition to this he creates some beautiful single image cut shots which I thought looked fantastic. The introspective cinematography matched the mood of the film’s central character and the film on the whole looked very impressive.
Without a doubt the highlight of the film is Sean Penn. The man has two Oscar’s so it isn’t a surprise to see him put in a decent performance but he is inch perfect. Only Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln beats this for me in the last couple of years. Maybe if the film hadn’t been so quirky or performed so badly at the box office, he would have added to his long list of major award nominations but for whatever reason he was overlooked. He is bold with his look and his little ticks and shuffled walk as well as deadpan delivery adds up to an incredible performance. More than one time my girlfriend said to me “I can’t believe that’s Sean Penn” and she was right to. He has a great voice and funny laugh and is capable of delivering killer lines too. It’s a simply magnificent performance. Joining him is another Oscar winner in Frances McDormand. She is very good but only has a small role. Judd Hirsch shines as an ex bounty hunter and Eve Hawson also impressed me. Harry Dean Stanton has a single scene in which he is brilliant and is the only one who comes close to holding his own with Penn.
In the end I can’t say that I wholly enjoyed This Must Be the Place but I enjoyed parts of it immensely. I laughed several times and thought the Cheyenne character was great. There are also some nice ideas in the script but it never feels as though it resolves what it sets out to. If not for Sean Penn I wouldn’t recommend the movie but he is so good that I’d tell people to watch it, simply for his performance.