Sean Penn is taking a page from Katherine Heigl's book and slamming his own film. He told French newspaper Le Figaro that "The Tree of Life" didn't measure up to his expectations, and offers some advice on how it could have. The following is a translation, courtesy of the New Yorker:
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! What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.
Someone sounds a little bitter that his role in "The Tree of Life" was chopped down mercilessly.
Penn does play a role, though. It's just more of a symbolic one that provides some context to the film and propels the plot forward... as opposed to a role that he could necessarily pull off better than another capable actor.
To be fair, it must be kind of off-putting to see yourself inserted into a film without really knowing what you're doing there. Penn's role felt incongruous at times (particularly toward the end, where things start to get awkward). Whenever his character shows up, we're supposed to draw something from his pained expressions, but the emotional impact of him merely being there isn't always as strong as it should be.
On the other hand, it sounds like Penn is basing the quality of the film on his role alone. Did he forget the overwhelmingly emotional scenes with Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain? And the dinosaurs?!
Penn wraps it up with something a little more diplomatic (based on our rough translation):
"It's a film I recommend on the condition that one go only without preconceptions. It's up to each to find a personal, emotional, or spiritual connection. Those that reach this generally leave very moved."
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