It takes a while to get over the shock of seeing Sean Penn dressed and coiffed as a sartorial mutant from the 1980s somewhere between Ozzy Osbourne and Boy George. Once that happens, however, This Must Be The Place gets it teeth into a timeless issue: coming of age.
It’s an unusual time of life for craggy former rocker Cheyenne (Penn) to be tackling the issue. Now living somewhere in depressed if opulent Irish isolation with his wife (McDormand) and a few friends, Cheyenne’s other relevant identity is that of middle-aged counter-intuitively Jewish son whose father dies before the two can reconcile, leaving an album chronicling the old man’s obsession with the Nazi criminal that tortured him.
Overcoming a few of his many phobias, Cheyenne returns to the US and sets out on a road trip to find the perpetrator, now in his 90s and living in a snow-blasted mid-western wilderness, where the final confrontation takes place.
Although it plays with several genres (coming-home, road movie, western-style revenge and show-down) the movie generally steers clear of stereotype: the rock-star wife is absurdly normal; the Jewish Nazi-hunter enlisted to help Cheyenne is abrasive; the Nazi is lucidly unrepentant; Cheyenne himself errs slightly on the side of sentimentality, but this silliness could be a result of youthful overindulgence in the white stuff. The soundtrack, featuring The Talking Heads, is brilliant: a perfect match for the jerky, insistent progress towards a meek but convincing happy end.
This Must be the Place (Cheyenne) | Directed by Paolo Sorrentino (Italy, France, Ireland 2011) with Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton. Starts November 10