Penn stars in the film as the adult Jack O’Brien, who is still recovering from a traumatic youth spent with his cruel father (Brad Pitt), as well as the untimely death of his brother. Midway through the picture, Malick breaks away from that narrative to detail the creation of the universe, leaving much of Penn’s performance on the cutting room floor.
“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.”
I personally think The Tree of Life - in its current, non-linear, Penn-lite form – is a masterpiece (and I’m certainly not alone). However, Penn’s forthright quotes do deserve acknowledgement, and they seem to be greater than a mere ‘actor upset about being cut’ gripe. See Adrien Brody discussing his slicing from Malick’s The Thin Red Line for that instead.
Still, perhaps Penn should have taken note of this warning message posted in certain U.S. cinemas about The Tree of Life‘s unique narrative.
Discuss: Does Penn’s complaint hold any weight?