(Paolo Sorrentino, 2011)
When you examine his work scene by scene, Paolo Sorrentino is among the World's best directors. His technical proficiency and ability to mould imagery through shotmaking, editing and use of music is quite spectacular and yields fitfully dazzling results. This Must Be The Place is no different in this, featuring many scenes which are beautifully shot, cut and scored. Sorrentino's eye is fantastic, consistently picking out interesting compositions and colour contrasts, isolating Sean Penn as protagonist Cheyenne in wide frames and distinctive landscapes.
But there are other problems here; the tone and pacing and story all feel off at different points, and the whole thing hangs together too awkwardly to really work. It follows an 80s Goth pop star (Penn), living in bored tax exile in Dublin with his firefighter wife Jane (Frances McDormand) and his search for an old Nazi War Criminal spurred on by the recent death of his Holocaust survivor father. He drives across America, meeting a series of typical Sorrentino eccentrics before a strange final confrontation.
Penn is terrific throughout; funny and even moving, with Sorrentino's camera trained tight to him, his hair a mop of black dye, eyes ringed with make up, mouth red with lipstick. He finds the perfect voice for his damaged, childlike character, a fey and high-pitched whine, matched by his halting shuffle of a walk. But the film lets him down somewhat, keeping his character opaque and a tad enigmatic but for a couple of slightly pat emotional explosions. Sorrentino seems as interested in the gallery of people he meets on the road and his small network of friends in Dublin, all of whom are given nice little speeches and vivid quirks.
That makes the film overly-episodic, halting to introduce new characters and settings every few minutes, and all Sorrentino's talent and Penn's skill cannot balance that particular weakness.