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1997: YEAR OF THE ASSHOLE
A Sean Penn performance used to be about as frequent as an Alice in Chains tour not cancelled after three shows. After the two great mistakes of his life, Madonna and SHANGHAI SURPRISE, the notoriously moody actor was even quoted saying that he didn't like to act. That kind of sucks for an actor, don't you think? He directed two competent but forgettable films and people had pretty much forgotten about him. "Wasn't he the guy that fucked Madonna?" "No, that was Dennis Rodman." "Oh Yeah."
Then came DEAD MAN WALKING.
In 1995, there were really only two male performances that reached the unattainable plane of greatness; one of them won the Oscar for playing a dying drunk and the other was Sean Penn's portrayal of death row inmate Matthew Poncelet. With a startling combination of studied mannerisms, an accurate accent, and those eyes, those haunting cold eyes, Penn pulled off a difficult feat: a killer who is also a person.
People jumped the gun. Penn had always been a good actor, despite his horrible career choices, but all of a sudden he was being called "the best actor of his generation". A bit of a stretch after one truly great performance. Despite all of this, Penn did not have another film come out the next year and he faded from memory.
But DEAD MAN WALKING changed things. It put sean Penn back on the A-list where he belongs. Not only had he reaffirmed his talent, but he had also mellowed and gotten married to actress Robin Wright. But now it is time for the second coming. 1997 is the year of Sean Penn.
There are three, count 'em, three Sean Penn movies being released in the fall of 1997. They are by known directors (Nick Cassavettes, Oliver Stone, and David Fincher) and one of them has already acquired him heavy kudos. I will not get in to a review of SHE'S SO LOVELY (mainly because I'm still trying to decide if I liked it) but I will say this: Penn's performance is amazing. Not amazing in a David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear kind of way, but fucking amazing. Before seeing SHE'S SO LOVELY, I was priveleged to see trailers for both THE GAME and U-TURN. The jury's still out on THE GAME. The preview looked kind of lame but I suspect it will be worth watching for Penn and director David Fincher's incredible visual style. Oliver Stone's U-TURN looks fucking incredible. Stone has an incredible filmmaking style, and I've been waiting for him to just make a movie rather than try to save the world. It looks like U-TURN is what I've been waiting for. It doesn't hurt that it has both Sean Penn and Billy Bob Thornton as an asshole car mechanic.
Last night was a night of Penn for me. After two trailers and a feature, I went home and popped in STATE OF GRACE. I only got twenty minutes into it because I had to get up in the morning. But this is his year. This is the year of the asshole. Maybe he is the greatest actor of his generation. But don't let him know that. If he gets too big an ego, just pull out your copy of SHANGHAI SURPRISE. That'll humble him right quick.
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