Near the starting of “Superpower,” Sean Penn tries to pre-empt the criticism generated by his earlier journeys to battle zones. “Weathered though it is,” he says in narration, “my famous face gets me access to places and people I may otherwise not have known.”
That is undoubtedly true, even when, in the previous, he has used that access to lob softball questions at El Chapo. When it involves chronicling the battle in Ukraine, the topic of this documentary, which Penn directed with Aaron Kaufman, it’s exhausting to begrudge the actor’s mission. Like the French mental Bernard-Henri Lévy, who has been making his own documentaries on the war, Penn seems to have one eye in the mirror, however at the least he’s taking some form of motion.
“Superpower” started as a movie about the unlikely presidency of the Ukrainian chief Volodymyr Zelensky and his path from comedian actor to politician. Much of the first half consists of fabric Penn compiled from the preinvasion interval. Experts lay out the complexities of the nation’s Twenty first-century historical past. Ukrainians replicate on the legacy of the Maidan protests and categorical skepticism about Zelensky’s potential.
Penn scores a coup by getting an on-camera interview with Zelensky on the first day of Russia’s invasion, and he movies him on two further events, in a video interview and in particular person on a later go to. Zelensky’s phrases — about what his nation wants, about how his 9-year-old has prematurely grown into being like a “wise political man” — are sometimes acquainted however nonetheless stirring. Potentially extra of a stunt is Penn’s journey to the entrance, which appears as a lot about proving his mettle as getting the story.
Not rated. In English and Ukrainian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. Watch on Paramount+.