HomeMovie ReviewSean Penn’s Zelensky Documentary – The Hollywood Reporter

Sean Penn’s Zelensky Documentary – The Hollywood Reporter

It’s been nearly a yr since Russia shocked the world by launching an invasion — or “particular navy operation,” per Vladimir Putin — of Ukraine, touching off a bloody and devastating battle that’s nonetheless very a lot ongoing, with no seen finish in sight.

The fog of warfare is so thick it’s onerous for any of us to see by means of it, and in that sense, the documentary Superpower, co-directed by Sean Penn and Aaron Kaufman, serves as a good primer as to how the battle began, what the stakes are and who stay the important thing gamers, with a particular concentrate on Ukraine’s unlikely hero of a president, Volodymyr Zelensky


The Backside Line

Each important and useless.

Venue: Berlin Movie Pageant (Berlinale Particular Gala)
Manufacturing corporations: Vice Studios, Aldamisa Leisure, Fifth Season
Administrators: Sean Penn, Aaron Kaufman

1 hour 55 minutes

However after sitting by means of the two-hour-long exposé, one might maybe be mistaken in considering that one other key participant within the warfare is Penn himself, a lot is the Hollywood star current in almost each scene within the movie that doesn’t contain archive footage (of which there’s quite a bit).

We see Penn on the bottom in Kyiv because the invasion occurs, sitting by means of safety briefings and press conferences, interviewing everybody from troopers to ambassadors to journalists, using trains and numerous chauffered autos throughout Ukraine throughout three totally different visits, making his case to politicians all over the world, crossing the border to Poland on foot and visiting trenches within the Donbas. 

It will be simple to put in writing the entire thing off as one massive and barely harmful vainness challenge, however let’s be sincere: This warfare considerations all of us, and the actor is doing all he can to assist the nice guys. Placing his identify and face on the battle — together with, at one level, speaking with Sean Hannity and profitable the praises of Newt Gingrich — might be the perfect factor a star of his caliber can do to attract consideration to the trigger.

That doesn’t imply Superpower isn’t a bit irksome in spots, and there are occasions once you want that at the very least one in all its seven credited camerapersons would have aimed the lens at somebody apart from Penn, who is continually onscreen. That is particularly problematic when the filmmakers attempt to drum up suspense out of one thing as inconsequential as, say, the actor and his crew using their manufacturing van from the Hyatt Regency to the InterContinental in downtown Kyiv simply after the invasion begins.

They appear to be asking us to care whether or not a Hollywood star will make it again to his 5-star lodge alive, whereas the remainder of the nation might very nicely go down in flames. It’s a false transfer — and there are others, resembling after we observe Penn, wearing full navy garb, as he tries to get as near the jap entrance as doable, with Justin Melland’s rating kicking into excessive gear to accompany the motion.

Aside from these eye-rolling moments, Superpower presents a reasonably complete take a look at a battle Penn himself admits he was “an entire Pollyanna” about, earlier than embarking on a challenge that might finally convey him face-to-face with Zelensky simply because the warfare was starting.

The latter’s rise from film and TV star — together with within the fashionable political satire Servant of the Folks, the place he performed an strange man turned president — to chief of a rustic rife with corruption and threatened by one of many world’s biggest superpowers is a narrative worthy of an entire different documentary. As soon as he was elected, no person, together with most Ukrainians, anticipated the previous actor to have the ability to lead a stand in opposition to Russian forces, and one ex-soldier at first tells Penn that “he doesn’t have the balls for it.”

In fact, Zelensky has already proved the world, and Vladimir Putin, incorrect. Most likely the movie’s most transferring second is when Penn lastly sits down with the president for an interview in his secret bunker solely a day after the invasion occurs. Like different scenes within the film, we get each a two-shot and a response shot so Penn is as current in entrance of the digicam as his topic, however that doesn’t take away from the ability and sincerity of Zelensky’s phrases.

“For those who’re not able to win, don’t combat,” he tells Penn throughout a second interview that occurred this previous June, when the 2 speak in regards to the warfare’s previous, current and future. It’s phrases like those who have turned Zelensky into a global figurehead and provoking motivational speaker, encouraging world leaders to again a rustic that’s been an underdog for the reason that begin.

The movie underlines how Zelensky’s lengthy profession as an actor absolutely helped him behave so calmly and confidently in entrance of the digicam. Seeing Penn and the president engaged, albeit on completely totally different ranges, within the biggest battle of our time, proves how a lot celebrities and politicians have at all times made unusual bedfellows — and generally only a single bedfellow being each issues directly.

Past these memorable interview sequences, a lot of Superpower covers occasions that anybody following the warfare this previous yr might be conscious of, leading to a film that serves extra as a firsthand recap of all that has occurred, and can proceed to occur, for who is aware of how lengthy.

Talking gruffly and sincerely, his eyes generally shaded by aviator glasses, Penn reminds everybody he meets that democracy and freedom are on the road right here, pounding tons of cigarettes, glasses of water and probably vodka as he hammers his message house many times. (The fixed smoking and ingesting could show extra dangerous for the 62-year-old actor than all his journeys to the frontlines.)

If Penn’s level in visiting Ukraine, assembly Zelensky and co-directing Superpower was to make himself heard, then it’s mission completed.



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