Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life has been bestowed with many rave reviews from critics and moviegoers and even won the prestigious Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but one person who doesn’t seem very impressed with the finished film happens to be Sean Penn, who has a brief, but significant, role in the film.
In an interview published in France this week, Penn revealed that he found Malick’s script to be superior to the finished movie. “I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context!” Furthermore, Penn doesn’t spare Malick any criticism, adding, “What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.” Tree of Life wasn’t the first time Malick and Penn worked together — Penn starred in Malick’s The Thin Red Line — so it isn’t like the writer/director and actor got off on the wrong foot. In his New Yorker piece, Richard Brody argues that Penn is mistaken, suggesting that “Malick’s methods don’t let the actor employ much of his accustomed technique, but this doesn’t at all lessen the beauty and the impact of his performance,” and goes even further to claim that Penn’s Hollywood stardom left him unhappy with being in such a small role: “Penn brings an acid yellow to the glass-and-metal grays of his scenes, and it adds something important to the film; but he doesn’t get to do the kind of showy and theatrical performance for which Oscars are won. The star system, the flatteries of celebrity—and, for that matter, the temperament that makes a person become an actor in the first place—contribute much to an actor’s sense that a movie is, or should be, all about him.”
Whether or not Brody is correct in his analysis is something only Sean Penn could answer, but at the very least it appears Penn and Malick had very different visions of what the film was supposed to convey — something that says quite a lot about how differently a director and and an actor might approach the same material.
via The New Yorker