“Quirky, hilarious and moving… a road trip of stunning scope yet deep intimacy, featuring an aged rock star-turned-Nazi-hunter played by Sean Penn at his transformative best.” — Variety. Also starring David Byrne.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2012
Sean Penn is Cheyenne, a retired glam rocker (think Edward Scissorhands, Ozzy Osbourne) who has washed up in Ireland. Married to a tai-chi-practising firefighter (Frances McDormand), the impending death of his father catalyses a bizarre American road trip in search of a Nazi war criminal. If you can suspend all disbelief, there’s an understated profundity to be found in this quietly genre-defying pic. Rising star Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love) directs his first film in English, which lends a peculiar, slightly surreal air to his affectionate version of Americana. At times you feel you’re watching a cult comedy, at others a mainstream drama; to its credit the film refuses to confirm itself as either. The laconic pace and sparse dialogue recall David Lynch’s The Straight Story and Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, while some sequences have the whimsical deadpan feel of Wes Anderson.
Penn’s effeminate performance as the white-faced, shock-haired Cheyenne is the strangest of his career to date. His voice is thin and reedy, with energy swinging from near catatonic to manic rigidity. Beneath the eccentricities lies a subtle emotional journey, which Penn traverses with great delicacy and judgment.
The plot is drawn with liberal poetic licence, relying on a string of delightfully far-fetched coincidences which lead Cheyenne to the man who humiliated his father at Auschwitz. A radiant cameo by David Byrne sits at the centre of the film, anchoring the themes of dislocation and yearning for home. Sorrentino’s consciously off-beat storytelling presents an oddly affecting take on humanity, with a wry and poignant humour throughout. — JR