CANNES, France (AP) — In the last few years, Shia LaBeouf has recast himself as a conceptual artist, gravitated to more experimental filmmakers and repeatedly raised eyebrows for his antics, famously including wearing a paper bag over his head at a Berlin Film Festival premiere.
But at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday, LaBeouf arrived clean-cut, orderly and bag-less — and with a film that's earning him some of the best reviews of his career.
In Andrea Arnold's "American Honey," which is competing for the Palme d'Or, LaBeouf stars alongside newcomer Sasha Lane as a leader of teenage drifters who travel the Midwest plains in a van, going town to town to sell magazine subscriptions. It's a journey into the soul of modern America: a wild, kinetic vision of drugs, hip-hop, poverty and aimless youth.
The Hollywood Reporter praised LaBeouf's performance as "an ideal vehicle to harness his edge-of-insanity unpredictability." IndieWire said LaBeouf "has never been better."
LaBeouf, who sported a white tuxedo on the Cannes red carpet, told reporters that Arnold's freewheeling shooting style was liberating. Before production, the actor spent a week with a similar young sales team in the Pacific Northwest, but said such preparation was only to learn the tricks of the trade. His own upbringing in California sufficed.
"This is not new information to me," said LaBeouf. "I'm part of that underclass."
LaBeouf is effectively the most veteran presence in the film, led by the breakout star Lane and populated largely with nonprofessional actors Arnold cast in her own trip across the United States. In Cannes, the collective's camaraderie was easy to see as they bounced to hip-hop from the film while striding down the red carpet.
LaBeouf, 29, also confirmed that he will play John McEnroe in the film "Borg/McEnroe," about the '70s-'80s rivalry between the two tennis stars.
"Jake is me and so is McEnroe," said LaBeouf, also referring to his "American Honey" character. "I understand these people. I empathize with them. You just turn things up and turn things down. It's me."
The actor said his backhand was "getting there."
Last year, LaBeouf held a kind of art instillation in New York where he watched all of his films at a Greenwich Village theater in reverse chronological order over 72 hours. Some he watched eagerly; others, like "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" made him nod off.
With "American Honey," though, LaBeouf seems to have found the film he was looking for.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP