A year ago at the Cannes Film Festival, I sat in a theater for the debut of Sean Penn’s latest directorial effort, The Last Face, as the audience began snickering a minute into the screening, when an overwrought opening title card appeared comparing the horrors of the Liberian Civil War and the crisis in South Sudan to “the brutality of an impossible love shared by a man … and a woman.” It had been one of the most anticipated movies of the festival: Penn’s first foray behind the camera since 2007’s Into the Wild, directing Charlize Theron, whom he’d been dating during filming but who’d broken up with him the last time they were at Cannes a year prior. The snickering didn’t stop, despite the movie’s being a very earnest look at (white) humanitarian doctors saving African lives. And then Penn and Theron had to endure a very awkward press conference, with co-lead Javier Bardem sitting between them, perhaps as a buffer.
Even then, we knew that someone would eventually have to release it (on DirecTV and in select theaters July 28); the budget was obviously sizable, it has huge stars and a big-name director. No one doubts that everyone involved had the noblest of intentions in bringing attention to the bloody conflicts in Africa. Theron and Bardem act their asses off with what little they’ve been given. But if this movie has been reedited to be less problematic, it doesn’t show it in the trailer. There’s still Theron’s narration about being worried about her place in the world, and sexy time with Bardem in a tent after stitching up war casualties, and a bunch of shots of these pretty white protagonists freaking out in the midst of Africans who are dying and seeing their homes destroyed, and epic music over the words “the hardest choice … is to risk everything.” Take note: This movie debuted a year ago, a bunch of critics saw it, and there’s not a single effusive quote in the trailer, not even from one of those names you don’t recognize from local TV stations in Baltimore. I’d tell you to stay away, but I really need to talk about this with people, so please do and then catch me in the comments or on Twitter.