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Superpower review – Sean Penn’s Zelenskiy documentary lacks insight

Actor embedded himself with the Ukrainian president during a time of crisis, but his film feels like a missed opportunity

Sean Penn is a brave man. He regularly shrugs off the comforts of Hollywood to parachute into sites of devastation and disaster, from Iraq and Venezuela to Haiti, where he notoriously commanded bountiful media attention over the course of a self-directed and extended embed during the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. The actor’s new film Superpower is a documentary that goes beyond the photo ops and talk show appearances, and relays what it looks like, day after day, hour after hour, when an Oscar-winning movie star crashes a cataclysm.

Co-directed by Aaron Kaufman and produced with Vice, Penn’s Superpower was originally meant to be a feature film on Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the heroically buffoonish Ukrainian comedian whose anti-corruption bits and widespread popularity somehow translated into presidency. Around the time that the documentary project was getting started, though, Russia invaded Ukraine. Penn was on hand to spring to action, growling at the atrocity and stomping around the rubble – and rubbing elbows with power players and global leaders. A biographical feature became an autobiographical portrait of Hollywood humanitarianism.

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