At the end of the 1940's, abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) is featured in Life magazine. Flashback to 1941, he's living with his brother in a tiny apartment in New York City, drinking too much, and exhibiting an occasional painting in group shows. That's when he meets artist Lee Krasner, who puts her career on hold to be his companion, lover, champion, wife, and, in essence, caretaker. To get him away from booze, insecurity, and the stress of city life, they move to the Hamptons where nature and sobriety help Pollock achieve a breakthrough in style: a critic praises, then Life magazine calls. But so do old demons: the end is nasty, brutish, and short. Written by
I doubt there are many folks who don't like Ed Harris as an actor. Over the last two decades he's given strong performances with a certain subtlety that is a trademark. Therefore, I'm also reasonably sure most people going to see his directorial debut can extend quite a bit of goodwill for a project Harris states he's wanted to put on the screen for a decade.
My own patience was used up after 20 minutes when I realized there was no one on the screen that Harris either understood or admired. For instance, the scene where Pollock urinates in Peggy Guggenheim's fireplace during a New Year's Eve party left the audience with only one choice: To laugh. The individuals at the party were portrayed as worthy of such an act because they were snobs. And indeed scorn is heaped upon any institution that's portrayed in the film: Marriage, art criticism, artists, family relationships, filmmakers, friendships, lovers . Everyone gets smeared here. I guess the dog comes off pretty well, but he's got a small part.
I can see why an actor would be drawn to this material. Jackson Pollock led a life that seemed destined for members of the Actor's Studio to portray. There are many, many opportunities to emote. But a film should be more than an essay on acting large. Scenes are held much longer than necessary; many are tedious or just baffling.
With the exception of Amy Madigan, the acting was a disappointment for me. Harris and Harden's performances seemed in different styles, primarily because Harris is almost vacant in presence unless he's smashing bottles or overturning dinner tables.
Spending so long working on this project, I felt like Harris had become so close to the material that he excluded the audience in what was crucial character information. How did he discover he liked to paint? What was his mysterious psychiatric diagnosis? Was he in a psychiatric hospital or a detox tank? What were the pills Krasner puts before Pollock? Were they helpful? Hurtful?
In general a screenplay that jumps back and forth in time using only placards like `Five years earlier' or `Two months later' signals an inherent weakness that a coherent narrative hasn't been developed.
It's too bad because there was a lot of effort here. There's surprising gracefulness in Harris' brushwork. But we don't know why the character--as an artist--is standing there and we don't see anyone truly moved by the result. We're told `Oh, that's wonderful,' but it's by characters who are neither trustworthy or have demonstrated they aren't sincere.
The most tiresome chestnut, that artists have to be ONLY artists and not functioning members of society, is the most glaring problem with the film. When Krasner screams, `We can't be parents, we're painters!' everyone sitting in the audience really knows `You can't be parents because he's an egomaniac and a drunk.' And I don't think that's a fair legacy for artists, particularly of Jackson Pollock's stature.
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