They had me at an aging, Robert Smith-like rock star hunting Nazis across America.
But beyond the gimmicky premise, This Must Be the Place is a truly magnificent film, gorgeously shot and acted, with a lot of heart. And a killer soundtrack by David Byrne too.
Sure, the premise could be whittled down to “Sean Penn plays Cheyenne, a retired rock star who goes on a mission to hunt down the Nazi who persecuted his father at a concentration camp during World War II,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. The film deals with legacies—and what we make of them—and also, and perhaps more importantly, the often skewered perceptions of our own lives and of those around us, and how we let single moments define us, good or bad.
I also found it to be quite the experiment on regionalist settings and how these places define the people present there. There is a fantastic segment of the film that takes place in Bad Axe, Michigan, for example, that does a wonderful job of cementing this place as a very real, living and breathing place, making it feel wholly unique without turning it into a parody. Director Paolo Sorrentino handles each location with great care, and you can tell that each of these places—New York, Dublin, Utah, among others—are characters of themselves, and that each has its own story to tell—each has its own way of affecting Cheyenne in profound and often life-changing ways.
Bottom-line: Sean Penn is fantastic, and his characterization of Cheyenne is worth checking out on its own, but there is so much more to the film than that. This Must Be the Place is a wildly entertaining fantastic character that is absolutely beautiful to look at, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.