Critics Slam Penn’s ‘Awkwardly Narcissistic’ Ukraine Film

Critics Slam Penn’s ‘Awkwardly Narcissistic’ Ukraine Film

February 22, 2023

John Nolte at Breitbart News reports that Sean Penn’s new documentary Superpower is taking a beating at the hands of even left-wing critics.

Screen Daily, for example, called the film “awkwardly narcissistic”:

Penn always seems to be self-consciously acting out a Hemingwayesque fantasy of a tough reporter bringing the news to the world. When Superpower shows him taking his advocacy of Ukraine to mainstream America via a TV interview with conservative Fox host Sean Hannity, it implicitly suggests that no-one else was really bringing the news about Ukraine to the west – and certainly not as charismatically and urgently as Penn seems to think he does.

Variety wrote, “In scenes where they fret over how to get their production vehicle across Kyiv to the safety of their plush international hotel in the wake of the invasion, ‘Superpower’ risks becoming its own making-of doc, complete with not-so-candid shots of a wild-haired Penn fretfully smoking, drinking and staring off into the middle distance.”

Collider wrote, “For most of its tiresome 115-minute runtime, Superpower will put Penn on the front stage as he takes up the self-appointed task of being the spokesperson of Ukraine and Zelensky in the Occident.”

Hollywood Reporter says,

That doesn’t mean Superpower isn’t a bit irksome in spots, and there are times when you wish that at least one of its seven credited camerapersons would have aimed the lens at someone other than Penn, who is constantly onscreen. This is especially problematic when the filmmakers try to drum up suspense out of something as inconsequential as, say, the actor and his crew riding their production van from the Hyatt Regency to the InterContinental in downtown Kyiv just after the invasion starts.

They seem to be asking us to care whether a Hollywood star will make it back to his 5-star hotel alive, while the rest of the country could very well go down in flames. It’s a false move — and there are others, such as when we follow Penn, dressed in full military garb, as he tries to get as close to the eastern front as possible, with Justin Melland’s score kicking into high gear to accompany the action.


Penn is not a cogent interviewer, and his hero-worship of Zelensky, whom he describes as “one of the deep beauties of a person you could meet”, gets heavy on garbled gushing, for all its very obvious sincerity. His more considered bits to camera wobble into pretension – “the interdependence that allows for independence”, say – pushing a strenuous hard-earned wisdom.

Spilling over two hours, needless swathes of the film merely document its own making, with boozy downtime and debates about production security that seem to be fishing for bravery points.

When you’ve lost even the left-wing movie critics…

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