The director of an international aid agency in Africa meets a relief aid doctor amidst a political/social revolution, and together face tough choices surrounding humanitarianism and life through civil unrest.
Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem are actors I have long admired. From Theron’s unrecognizable turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster,” to Bardem’s almost as unrecognizable performance as brutal hitman Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” both have more than proved their worth as two of today’s finest actors. With “The Last Face,” they play doctors who find each other, and love, in war-torn Africa. The film was directed by actor Sean Penn, whose humanitarian work is world renowned and here, he takes up the plight of refugees trying to escape war-torn countries Liberia and South Sudan.
The movie travels back and forth in time, starting with Theron’s Wren, a physician and activist who after spending years in the field in West Africa, has relocated to a desk job running the organization Doctors of the World that her father started many years ago before his untimely death. She fights for the rights of those in West Africa who suffer atrocities from local militia and corrupt governments and we then go back to her time in the field, when she first meets Miguel Leon (Javier Bardem), a Spanish doctor who has devoted himself to treating people from poverty-stricken and devastating war-torn areas of the world. Very much a loner, Wren constantly compares herself to her dead father and his many accomplishments as a doctor and as a result, becomes very introverted and reclusive. She concentrates on the job at hand but eventually, she and Miguel fall for each other.
The story’s central character arc is clearly that of Wren and her struggle to want to help those in need but also her own sanity and very existence, after all, if she is dead, she can help no one. After watching friends and colleagues die brutally and unnecessarily in the field, her desire to stay there decreases with every passing day. For every few people they are able to save, much more are killed and these numbers grow daily. Wren and Miguel manage to find some quiet moments for themselves in amongst the horror and carnage surrounding them but eventually, Wren can’t take any more of the killing and decides to move back to the city where she will continue to run the organization from afar. With Miguel having dedicated his life to helping those in need, he understands where she is coming from and although they both want to be together, neither can ask the other to stay with them as it would prevent them from doing their life’s work.
“The Last Face” has received a lot of negative reviews but I found the movie to be wholly engaging and Sean Penn proves that he has the necessary directing capabilities to present an engaging and captivating story to the masses. Both Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem give emotionally-charged performances that resonate with you and stay with you long after the movie has ended. Jared Harris and Jean Reno are criminally underused and relegated to background characters but in the end, it is Wren and Miguel’s story that is front and foremost. Watching “The Last Face” makes you feel uncomfortable and perturbed as it opens your eyes to areas of the world that demand to be seen for the barbarity and inhumanity suffered by its people, and it’s been a long time since a filmmaker has gotten that response from me.
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