A bored, retired rock star sets out to find his father’s persecutor, an ex-Nazi war criminal that is a refugee in the U.S.
THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is an elusive, high-wire act of a movie. The story, such as it is, revolves around fifty-ish ex-Pop Star Cheyenne (Penn). He lives in self-imposed exile in Dublin. His appearance draws attention wherever he goes. People are confronted, amused or annoyed by the sight of an ageing Goth dragging a wheeled suitcase in his wake. His home is a mansion that he shares with his pragmatic and loving wife, Jane (McDormand). Cheyenne’s life has no purpose. He hangs out with his small number of friends and he seems unhappy; beset with plain, old-fashioned ennui.
When the news arrives that his father has died, Cheyenne returns home to the US and through a series of discoveries, decides to take on the task of hunting down a Nazi guard whose whereabouts became an obsession of Cheyenne’s late father–an Auschwitz survivor.
Relating the story here makes it seem quite clear and linear, however, writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s movie is not so straightforward. He has told his tale in a series of vignettes linked together with a deceptively loose storyline.
There is so much space and time–in the story, the composition of the shots, in the reaction times of the characters– that losing the thread is easy, in fact it seems to be the intention. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is a road movie with detours, however just when you have invested in a particular side journey, Sorrentino refocuses on the main objective. This approach creates memorable episodes, rather than a cohesive whole.
This allows certain actors to shine in their sequences. Judd Hirsch makes a notable appearance as Nazi hunter Mordecai Midler. Hirsch was great in his early TV days in shows like TAXI, however not so much lately (NUMB3RS). To see him playing a character of some complexity and wit again, was a pleasure. Irish actress Kerry Condon plays the part of a waitress whose husband is stationed in Iraq. She is convincing in a small part composed of a few good moments. Fans of the band TALKING HEADS will recognise the movie’s title is a Heads’ song and won’t be disappointed when founder member David Byrne makes a cameo appearance.
Penn’s performance is the core of the movie and it demonstrates what a fine actor he is. His visual appearance is a deliberate pinch from The Cure’s Robert Smith. The other elements have been invented and embodied by Penn; the walk, the voice and the attitude. Cheyenne is not a character who is easy to warm to, but Penn makes him extremely watchable.
THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is Sorrentino’s first English language feature. It seems to lack purpose and drive in its first section, but this picks up to a degree when Cheyenne begins his road trip. There were loose ends left untied by the end, which I found frustrating. Despite feeling vaguely dissatisfied by the level of quirk (wait until you see what the character of Jane does for a living), in the week since I saw the preview screening, I have reconsidered several moments from this film. The elusive quality of this film makes me wonder whether to catch up with it again in its first run.
THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is playing in Australian cinemas currently. It runs for 118 minutes. I rated it 3/5.