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Films

From David Fincher to Clint Eastwood: The 6 best Sean Penn films on Netflix

“So if we have anything original to offer, it’s to speak from our own life about the society we’re in.” — Sean Penn

Sean Penn turns 61 today, on August 17, 2021, and has been a powerhouse performer with the innate ability to switch to varied roles with effortless ease unabashed with his stormy and honest political opinions as well as a slandered private life, Penn’s performances are intense, moving and absolutely flawless, painting his diversified career. 

Born in Los Angeles to a family associated with cinema, Penn’s cinematic journey began in 1981 with the film Taps, followed by his highly stylised appearance as a teen stoner surfer in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  

Penn gained a critical appreciation of his wonderful performance at The Falcon and the Snowman, and soon was seen in various films that established him as a mature and versatile actor with a knack for dynamic performances in a variety of films. 

He received his first Oscar nomination for Dead Man Walking before winning his first-ever Academy Award for the 2003 Clint-Eastwood directed film Mystic River. One of Hollywood’s most progressive and controversial actors, gifted with unbridled talent, he has also ventured onto the realm of direction and writing, reaping results. 

To pay tribute to the actor on his 61st birthday, let us take a look at some of his best films streaming on Netflix: 

The 6 best Sean Penn films on Netflix 

6. The Game – (David Fincher, 1997) 

A wealthy San Fransisco banker finds himself in deep trouble after being urged by his addict of a brother to visit the Consumer Recreation Services. The mysterious game soon changes his life, and he is caught in limbo between reality and the game.

Starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, the film is a classic Fincher with a mind-bending ending. It has a gripping and twisted script that reeks of Douglas’ paranoia and desperation juxtaposed to Penn’s smug victory and sick anarchic mentality. Although he appears as a cameo, Penn is absolutely mind-blowing in the film.

We all hope never to have a brother like him!

5. The Interpreter – (Sydney Pollack, 2005)

An interpreter overhears an alleged plan for the assassination of the Matobo president while she is at the United Nations. Her alert prompts Secret Service Agents Keller and Woods to delve deeper into the case. Soon, they suspect the interpreter, who has quite a few shady relations and murky connections with the opponent camps.

This film abounds in suspense and well-stylized dramatic tension, starring Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, and Catherine Keener. While Kidman dominates the screen, Penn is pretty stellar in his role as Keller.

Penn even had to attend Secret Service school to prepare properly fr his role. While Pollack claimed that Penn was as excitable “like a kid”, Penn said that “they were teaching me so much as I was there to see what they get taught. They’re very impressive guys. You never know how these things affect a performance. You just try to have it at your service when you need it if things come up when you’re shooting.”

4. The Tree of Life – (Terrence Malick, 2011)

One of the three O’Brien brothers, Jack, shares a rocky relationship with his father, which tends to have an effect on his adulthood as well. He tries to make peace with the ghosts of his past by attempting to move on with his life while constantly grappling with deeper questions laced with philosophy and existentialism that render him reevaluating his entire life.

A poignant and devastatingly beautiful exploration of family, memories, trauma, and nature itself, the wonderful film is an evocation of the raw emotions felt in a family while dealing with various memories from the past. In the film, Penn plays the older and present version of Jack, who is in a deep state of introspection.

Penn applauded Malick, saying that the script for the film was “the most magnificent I’ve ever read” and recommends the film as via the film can people find a deep-seated “personal, emotional or spiritual connection”.

3. Mystic River – (Clint Eastwood, 2003)

An ex-con and a doting father of three, Jimmy Markum stumbles upon his daughter’s dead body, and his friend Sean Devine begins an investigation into her death. First suspicions land on their old childhood friend Dave who had been abducted and then released after days of sexual abuse as a child, leaving him scarred forever.

As they delve deeper into the case, the past and present demons coalesce, making things increasingly difficult. A tragic mystery, the film deals with heavyweight issues of abuse, murder, trauma and more. The harrowing events are laced with melancholy and despair.

The brilliant acting from the ensemble, including Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Beacon and more, help add flavour to the film. Penn had won the Best Actor award at the 2004 Oscars for his brilliant and heartfelt performance as the grieving, heartbroken father.

2. I Am Sam – (Jessie Nelson, 2001)

Sam Dawson has a developmental disability, with the capacity to think like a seven-year-old. He ends up having a daughter with a homeless woman who abandons them. Sam is soon unable to grapple with the duties of fatherhood and ends up losing his daughter in the process. While he tries to fight to win her custody, he teaches his cold-hearted, professional lawyer a few things about family, affection, compassion and love.

Sean Penn was showered with critical acclaim for his wonderful performance alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Dakota Fanning. The film is extremely touching, and Beatles’ fans love how the songs calm Sam’s chaotic mind.

When Oprah Winfrey asked Penn what it was like to make such a different film, he replied, “That was an interesting challenge. Craft comes into acting later rather than sooner. I was somebody who had to learn through a process—a natural actor doesn’t need to.

1. Milk – (Gus Van Sant, 2008)

The film explores Harvey Milk’s life and career from his 40th birthday up to his death when he finally embraces his sexuality openly and starts the camera shop that becomes the safe haven for the growing gay community. Milk runs for office and soon establishes himself as California’s first-ever openly gay official. Harvey Milk has a rare kind of energy that Sean Penn managed to imbibe with effortless ease. 

After a decade of making arthouse flicks, Van Sant returned to the biopic genre and created one of his most fascinating films that definitely saw Penn at his best, winning him the Best Actor award at the 81st Academy Awards.

When asked what made him agree to make a film like this, Penn answered, “It was a wonderfully written script with one of the great directors. Of course, I could lay on top of all that, the values that this story and Harvey Milk’s life have, but that would take a long time.”