Sean Penn owns it in "This Must Be the Place"

A tale of an aging glam rock Nazi-hunter looks surprisingly touching

By Drew Grant
Published July 14, 2011 3:30PM (EDT)
Penn is nonplussed.
Penn is nonplussed.

One time I met Sean Penn. It was outside an event for the Huffington Post 100 (I was not one of them ... surprised?) and he asked to bum a cigarette. I think I asked him something about Cuba? Anyway, this was the face he made the entire time we were talking. He did not look happy. I just had to face (ha?) facts: I'm no Scarlett Johansson. (Though I'm pretty sure he made that face hanging out with her too.)

So when people talk about how amazing Penn's performance is in "This Must Be the Place" -- where he plays an aging Robert Smith-type who decides to get all Roy Scheider in "Marathon Man" after his estranged father dies and goes on a cross-country trip to find his Nazi torturer -- I believe them. Sean Penn is a really good actor! He is even good when he has to pretend to be happy, like in "Milk" (first half) or "I Am Sam."

But Penn really shines when he gets to play a character who's pretty much over it all: sarcastic, depressed and misanthropic (second half of "Milk," all other Sean Penn vehicles).

Under all that Joker makeup, that's basically how Sean Penn's face naturally aligns itself anyway.

Point being: This movie looks pretty good. Though I'd really love it if Christoph Waltz made a cameo as the Nazi and we had a Jew-hunter-Nazi-hunter showdown between these two thespians. Barring that, I just hope it's not "About Schmidt: Life's a Drag."

Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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