out of five
: 122 mins
Impressive directorial debut from Ed Harris, who directs himself in this long-cherished project - both Harris and Marcia Gay Harden were deservedly Oscar-nominated for their performances.
Ed Harris' biopic of the life of modernist artist Jackson Pollock is a fine directorial debut for the actor, who has spent the last fifteen years or so developing the project.
The film begins in New York in 1941, at the point when Pollock meets Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), the woman who nurtures and develops his career as an artist by introducing him to the New York art world, and who later becomes his wife.
Harris portrays Pollock as a raging alcoholic, frequently given to outbursts of rage or humiliating public display, such as urinating on the fire at a dinner party or drunkenly insulting his guests.
Interestingly, Harris chose not to include any explanatory scenes depicting Pollock’s childhood, so that we’re left to wonder what makes him tick. The effect of this is to ally the audience’s sympathies with Krasner – like her, we’re not permitted to understand his genius, we can only watch and wonder.
The film does include the standard Famous Artist Biopic clichés, including the first exhibition and, in a crucial scene that works despite raising an involuntary giggle, the moment when he ‘discovers’ his famous technique of action painting by accidentally spilling some on the ground. It also has an excellent soundtrack that adds considerably to the film, particularly during the superbly realised painting scenes.
There are several nice directorial touches, particularly when Pollock is shown agonising over a mural he’s been commissioned to paint by Peggy Guggenheim (played by Harris’ real-life wife, Amy Madigan) – for a moment, Harris fills the screen with the blank canvas and holds the shot, allowing us to experience his fear.
The performances by both leads are superb – Marcia Gay Harden deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, though Harris was clearly robbed – that the Academy could favour Russell Crowe in Gladiator over Harris’s performance here is a cinematic travesty.
There’s also good support from Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Madigan and Jennifer Connelly, who has a short but memorable role in an equally short but memorable swimsuit.
To sum up, then, this is an impressively-handled biopic with stunning
performances that will leave you wanting to find out more about its subject. Recommended.