Awards Profile: The Last Face

Penn and Theron
So, do these two have a celebrity couple portmanteau yet? Therpenn? Charsean?

Welcome to the 2015 Awards Profiles series.  For the next two months, every day (except for Saturday), we will bring you a run down of a future 2015 film that we see as a potential awards vehicle for next year’s Academy Awards.  This is all speculative since with just about all these films, we haven’t seen a frame yet.  Nonetheless, we venture on.  If you miss a film, then click on the tag “2015 Awards Profile.”

Directed by: Sean Penn
Written by: Erin Dignam
Cast: Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jean Reno, Jared Harris, Sibongile Mlambo, Bronwyn Reed, Sarah Muhoho, Ebby Weyime and Olga Gainullina

Synopsis: A humanitarian relief worker in Africa amidst violent political conflicts in the region meets a doctor, and both face tough moral decisions during a time of civil unrest.

Why it might succeed:

Eight years is a long time. Since the release of the Christopher McCandless biopic Into the Wild, its director Sean Penn managed to nab a second Academy Award for Best Lead Actor, doubled down on his overseas aid work, got Ostreicher out of prison, divorced Robin Wright, fell into a relationship with Charlize Theron, tried and failed to ride the Liam Neeson aging badass train, and most recently got malcontents on the internet all riled up over some green card joke at the Oscars or something. Now he’s finishing up post-production on his fifth feature The Last Face, a romantic drama about relief workers in Africa.

More than any of his previous films, The Last Face looks on paper to be a case of art imitating life from the prominent philanthropist. Not only does the premise seem to be informed at least somewhat on the foreign aid efforts he’s participated in throughout most of his adult life, but coincidentally (or not), Penn swapped out ex-wife Wright for current belle Theron in the lead role of a conflicted aid worker, who he has since praised as “a director’s dream.” A man directing his significant other to a performance recognized by the Academy has happened a few times before, and the collaboration between two actors as accomplished as those two could yield new highs from Theron.

The Last Face-barden-Sean Penn
“Dame el cabello normal por una vez, por favor!”

Penn is partnering with The Tree of Life producer Bill Pohlad, who has also financed the movie through River Road Entertainment. After praising his performance in Biutiful up and down back in 2011, it’s not surprising to me that Penn cast Javier Bardem opposite Theron as a doctor. Bardem should also be considered a possible nominee, and the personal touch applied by Penn to this setting may land him his first nomination for Best Director.

I imagine Awards Circuit readers are most excited to see the return of Blue is the Warmest Color star Adèle Exarchopoulos, cast in a supporting role here as a young journalist. I have to admit, I was a little worried that the sexually explicit nature of her breakout role would be an obstacle to her career taking off (Tang Wei, anyone?), and I’m happy to see that she has the opportunity to work with so many established names in Hollywood with this project. It’s impossible to tell at this point if her role will be rich enough to make her a genuine threat for Best Supporting Actress, but with the right campaign it’s certainly possible for her to Norma Aleandro her way into an apology nomination regardless.

In terms of below-the-line possibilities, The Hurt Locker cinematographer Barry Ackroyd will be bringing his earthy, handheld camera work to the film’s aesthetic. Cutting the film is Sean Penn’s regular editor Jay Cassidy, three times nominated with no wins so far. Newcomers to the Oscar beat include composer Joseph Vitarelli, production designer Andrew Laws and costume designer Diana Cilliers. Cilliers is the only name among those three to claim a passing association with the Oscars (for her work on Best Picture nominee District 9), and this project may very well launch them to unprecedented recognition.

The major names attached to The Last Face total four Oscars, twelve Oscar nominations, five Emmy nominations, and a Palme d’Or. That’s quite an accomplished team. Any possible weak links? Well…

Why it might not:

The film’s screenplay is credited to Erin Dignam, a writer/director whose previous films include, um

well

Yellow Handkerchief
If anyone has seen The Yellow Handkerchief, by all means let us kno-wait, is that Eddie Redmayne?!

huh. I’ve…literally never even heard of these movies until I researched her work for this very article. Now, that’s probably not her fault. The reviews for The Yellow Handkerchief look pretty decent and it’s no secret that it can be very difficult for the vast majority of women filmmakers to get their projects made even with critical support and awards. Still, she has by far the least screen credits of the names behind The Last Face, making the writing of this film a question mark.

Sean Penn also has yet to have any of his directorial efforts hit big with the Academy. The most successful one by far is Into the Wild, which only managed two nods and no wins. For every Robert Redford there are plenty more actors-turned-directors with a decent filmography to their name but one that never quite matches their success as actors. It’s also just as possible that art imitating life translates to a film as sanctimonious and preachy as he can be sometimes. With so little information at this point in time, one cannot say with any certainty how it may turn out.

The Last Face is tentatively set for release later this year.

Oscar Potential:
Picture (Bill Gerber, Matt Palmieri and Bill Pohlad)
Director (Sean Penn)
Lead Actress (Charlize Theron)
Lead Actor (Javier Bardem)
Supporting Actress (Adèle Exarchopoulos)
Supporting Actor (Jean Reno and/or Jared Harris)
Original Screenplay (Erin Dignam)
Original Score (Joseph Vitarelli)
Cinematography (Barry Ackroyd)
Film Editing (Jay Cassidy)