This Must be the Place


03 Tuesday 03rd April 2012

It is the news of his estranged father’s impending death that finally jolts Cheyenne into action, and he travels to America in the hopes of reconcilement – only to get there too late. Lamenting the 30 years of silence left between them, Cheyenne decides to set out to avenge his memory, by tracking down the ex-Nazi who humiliated his father in Auschwitz. What follows is an odyssey across America’s most iconic settings, from the skyscrapers of New York to the wild desert road, as Cheyenne endeavours to locate the war criminal and consequently find meaning in his life again.

As you might expect, two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn gives a fantastic performance as Cheyenne, who, (with a less-than-subtle nod to The Cure’s Robert Smith), shuffles onto the screen backcombed, leather-clad and daubed in more makeup than your local Superdrug counter. Admittedly you do spend the first minute or so just gawping (come on, it’s Sean Penn – as a GOTH), but Penn smoothly manages to deflect any sense of ridiculousness, drawing us into Cheyenne’s world with an endearing, slightly bewildered air and deadpan observations (“Why is Lady Gaga…?”), delivered in a slow, strangely high-pitched voice.

Fellow Oscar-winner Frances McDormand is also perfect as Cheyenne's loving wife, with her pragmatic earthiness perfectly offsetting his childish abstraction, and up-and-coming actress Eve Hewson – that’s right – Bono’s daughter – gives a solid supporting performance as Cheyenne’s sardonic goth friend Mary. 

Musical legend David Byrne, who collaborated on the film’s sweeping, emotionally-charged soundtrack, also makes a cameo appearance as himself, performing the Talking Heads song that gave This Must Be The Place its name (remember, as Cheyenne later stresses, it is not by Arcade Fire).

Sorrentino relays his story from a lilting, unhurried point of view (fittingly reflecting Cheyenne's own dream-like way of seeing the world), filled with frequent slow panoramic shots and a lingering focus on environment and the play of natural light. Though this furnishes the plot with a vivid mise-en-scène intercut with moments of real beauty, admittedly the pace is left dragging at times, and some scenes are stretched out to the point of self-indulgence; in all likelihood, the events in the narrative could have been executed in a shorter time than the entire 118 minutes shown.

Additionally, while for the most part Sorrentino manages to navigate the self-discovery theme without wading into the sickly-sweet waters of sentimentality, there is one side story about a single mother and her socially awkward son that couldn’t help but put my teeth on edge.

However, despite these minor complaints, with This Must Be The Place Sorrentino has created a funny, tender and visually gorgeous gem of a film. Though some questions are left unanswered, we are told enough; in Cheyenne’s travels it is decidedly a case of the journey being more important than the destination. As Sorrentino himself puts it, “Every film has to be an unrelenting search for the unknown and for mystery – not so much to find the answer, but to keep the question alive.”

If nothing else, this is one that you’ll definitely be downloading the soundtrack for.

This Must Be The Place hits cinemas Friday 6 April.

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