In 'This Must Be the Place,' Cheyenne (Sean Penn), an inspired fusion of Goth-music idols Siouxsie Sioux and Robert Smith with a bit of Ozzy Osbourne's mannerisms, enjoys retirement from the rock-star spotlight lounging around his Dublin mansion and watching pizza bake in his oven.
When we're first introduced to him, his morning routine consists of teasing his hair out into a big, puffy mess, carefully doing his makeup, and dressing as if attending a funeral. He's actually preparing to meet a friend, Mary (Eve Hewson), at the mall for coffee, where he is either recognized immediately by an aspiring band or stared at with dismay and condescending giggles. He repays the superior attitude of a pair of girls at a supermarket by puncturing their quart of milk.
Not hurt too bad by the incident — almost as if sadly accustomed to the patronizing attitudes of others — the soft-spoken, slightly-slurring Cheyenne continues with his day. He chats about the stock market and throwaway chatter with his overweight Casanova friend, Jeffrey (Simon Delaney). The day ends with him making flirtatious jokes with his wife of 35 years, Jane (Frances McDormand), who works as a local firefighter and playing a game of handball inside an empty pool the couple never got around to filling up.
Penn is simply remarkable as a rather unremarkable individual, in spite of his former glory days where we can assume he was idolized by millions. The award-winning actor of 'Milk,' '21 Grams' and 'Mystic River' surprises as a middle-aged man very aware of the futility and emptiness of his material success. His large estate is surrounded by a vibrant, green landscape and the inside of the mansion largely feels vacant and hollow — Cheyenne's outfits dramatically clash against the whites of the walls.
Coming across as sorrowfully emotionless, the pensive character spends much of the time meandering about, aimlessly ruminating on the seemingly pointless objects occupying his daily life. Yet, there are hints of anger, demonstrating a frustration with the direction in his life and a possible desire for more. Perhaps, it's a yet to be identified yearning to break from the banality, create a sense of purpose and meaning in his life. He's the modern-day, Goth version of Marcello Mastroianni's Arthur from Luchino Visconti's 'The Stranger.'
Unlike Mastroianni's existential character, however, Cheyenne does express grief and remorse when hearing of his father's death, spurring him to travel back to the U.S. after being away for several decades. On learning more about his father's past in Auschwitz from Judd Hirsch and Liron Levo, the musician decides to take up his father's hunt for a Nazi war criminal named Aloise Lange. The story suddenly turns into a cross-country road movie — an interesting but equally strange way of displaying today's America.
It's a nation with an unsympathetic history teacher (Joyce Van Patten) who conceals her intolerance and an insecure widow (Kerry Condon) living just as aimlessly and afflicted as our protagonist. It's a place where one can unexpectedly bump into the inventor of the wheeled luggage (Harry Dean Stanton) quietly eating lunch at a restaurant in Utah and where the 2008 Presidential race plays on television with the same attention span or fleeting sense of importance as a college football game. Cheyenne is slowly gaining a wider worldview — that's he's not the only one living day by day, struggling to defeat boredom and find purpose.
'This Must Be the Place,' taken from a title song by Talking Heads, is an ornately but subtlety patterned drama with small sparks of comedy and a healthy dose of absurd oddity. From Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, who also co-wrote the script with Umberto Contarello, the film meanders much like its main character in search of meaning, feeling almost as if the filmmakers are making it up as they go along — to borrow a line from the Talking Heads song. It slogs a bit in the middle of the second act, but with captivatingly passionate cinematography by Luca Bigazzi ('Certified Copy'), the story implies a great deal of substance and weight. One only needs to care enough to sift through all the absurdity in order to find it, to give it a chance to surprise, much in the same way we allow life to astonish us through the little moments and minor conversations.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay Entertainment and The Weinstein Company bring 'This Must Be the Place' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc, housed inside a blue, eco-lite case. A couple trailers can be skipped at startup, followed by a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
'This Must Be the Place' debuts on Blu-ray with a highly-stylized yet excellent AVC-encoded transfer that stays true to the photography of Luca Bigazzi and the creative intentions of director Paolo Sorrentino. The palette is generally well-balanced, mostly accurate and full-bodied, but there are quite a few scenes where things appear skewed, making the world feel somewhat off-kilter. When Cheyenne is in New Mexico, primaries are slightly exaggerated with a strong yellow push, giving several moments a shiny, metallic-like appeal. In New York while visiting David Byrne, colors are very animated and pulsating, but in Michigan and Dublin, they are toned down just a tad with a slight grayish overcast. It makes for an interesting viewing experience.
The rest of the 2.35:1 image appears unaffected by the heavy use of optical filters. Contrast is comfortably bright with a few spots that run a tad hotter than normal, which is part of the film's deliberate look, but it's consistent with crisp, brilliant whites against deep, blue skies and the vivid, green lawns of Michigan homes. Brightness could be stronger and better balanced in some areas, but overall, blacks are true and accurate, especially in Cheyenne's Goth outfit. Shadows can seem a bit lacking and murky in some spots, but they're good nonetheless with admirable detailing. The picture is very well-defined with sharp, distinct lines in the architecture and surrounding foliage as well as hair and clothing. Facial complexions appear natural with excellent lifelike textures.
Considerably more impressive is this involving and often enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The character-driven film is substantially aided by a variety of atmospherics and musical cues which wonderfully enhance and move the narrative forward. The sounds of birds chirping, the wind blowing through trees and random traffic creates a unique and realistic soundfield. During quieter segments, such as when Cheyenne sits inside a bar or restaurant, the rears remain active with the chatter of other patrons in the distance, giving the film an added touch of local color. Panning effects are employed intermittently and mostly located in the fronts, but they're amusingly fluid and smooth. David Byrne's music also bleeds into the back speakers, keeping viewers engaged.
Ultimately, the design is a front-heavy presentation with Byrne's music and other song selections doing the majority of the work, spreading across the screen evenly and creating a wide, welcoming soundstage. The mid-range isn't exerted too far, but there is a good deal of clarity and richness within the music. Differentiation between the frequencies and various notes is precise and detailed while dialogue is well-prioritized in the center with clear intonation of each actor's voice. Low bass is deep and accurate with great room-penetrating mutability, providing the music with plenty of depth and weight in the lower ranges. Overall, it's a great lossless mix for a dialogue-driven dramedy.
This is a bare-bones release.
Sean Penn stars as an aging Goth rock star jaded and bored with his current lot in life, ruminating on largely meaningless things. From Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino, 'This Must Be the Place' intentionally meanders, much like its main character, but slowly reveals a deeper understanding of the world we live in today. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent audio and video presentation, but offers nothing in the supplemental area for fans to enjoy. This bare-bones release is rather disappointing due to the lack of extra features, but those who enjoy absurd, quirky films will want to give this a watch nonetheless.