Marlon Brando and Sean Penn. Both great actors, each arguably the greatest of his generation. But the similarities only begin there. With so much in common, it’s almost impossible to resist calling Sean Penn our Marlon Brando.
The first things one sees are the physical similarities. Both men shared an almost feline posture in youth; slender, forward-leaning with broad but slopping shoulders. Like big cats stalking through tall grass, they moved with heads low and forward and with hulking grace. You see it in Brando’s turn as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Names Desire as he prowls the house like a caged tiger. It’s there in Sean Penn’s bobbing and weaving Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High or in his hunched, old-lion turn as Jimmy Markum in Mystic River. Interestingly, these characters are all outsiders, criminals, feral in domestic society, another similarity we’ll get to shortly.
Other physical similarities that help make Sean Penn our generation’s Marlon Brando are collected in close proximity just above the neck. Penn has the doleful eyes, the arching brows, the expressive forehead, the high cheekbones, the strong chin, the air of...