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Pollock (2000)

  Directed by: Ed Harris
Written by: Steven Naifeh, Gregory White Smith
Starring: Marcia Gay Harden, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan
Links: Pollock on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Based on True Story

This movie gets: 7.50 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 81st of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"Blues, Booze, and Blue Poles" - a review by mino

You know, to enjoy a detailed biographical film, you really have to be in the mood for one. ‘Biopics’ are often enjoyed or not enjoyed on the basis of the mood you're in at the time (or so I find, at least), not necessarily just on the basis of how good they actually are. To be fair to Pollock in this review, I really should come right out and say one thing: when I saw it, I'm not completely sure that I was in the mood for watching it. Therefore, I may be a little bit too harsh here. Ed Harris, I know this was a labour of love for you: so please forgive me. I think you're just swell, really.

That said, let's get down to it: it's obvious that Pollock is a wonderfully acted, well-written, moving piece of drama. It details the main ‘chunk’ of the career of American artist Jackson Pollock: we follow him from where he is just about to break onto the art scene in a big way through until his early death. The story is a fascinating one, and is told well by Harris (who both stars and directs). However, I can't really say that I found it a particularly good film for only one reason: it just didn't capture my attention.

Maybe it's because of the mood I was in, as I say, but I don't think that was all. Oddly, for a movie which seems to have been Harris' magnum opus, it doesn't seem to have much passion. Pollock was, at times, an antisocial jerk, and one who battled with alcoholism. Harris does an excellent job conveying Pollock's slow decline, but I just found it hard to care. Pollock is not portrayed as a particularly sympathetic character, but for a biopic to be successful, you at least need to give a shit about what happens to the character, even if it's only as far as ‘what a jerk, let's hope he gets eaten by a shark’. Unfortunately, I just couldn't bring myself to much care about Jackson Pollock. Whether this is Pollock's fault or Harris', I cannot say: I'm not really very familiar with Pollock's personal life.

There are some outstanding acting performances in this film, even apart from Harris'. Marcia Gay Harden is wonderful as Pollock's long-suffering wife, Lee Krasner (a character, incidentally, I had no problems feeling sympathy towards). She plays the tortured wife very well, and is one of the real treats of this movie. Very good also are the supporting cast — Pollock's hangers-on and sycophants — who seem to be very much enjoying themselves. Playing 50s-New-York-art-scene-folk is clearly a great chance to ‘camp it up’ a little, and the minor players certainly seem to be making the most of it, as do the two stars in the earlier, happier, part of the film.

In fact, that's a distinction that's worth making. Despite the fact that ‘abstract artists of the 50s’ isn't likely to be my chosen category on Mastermind any time soon, I greatly enjoyed the first half of the movie, which dealt with that scene. Contrariwise, while ‘battles with alcoholism and family breakdown’ is a topic that should be easy-peasy to turn into a fascinating movie, the last third of the movie (which dealt with these topics more) was actually kind of dull. The movie loses direction a bit, and gets rather too slow.

Then, of course, there's the fact that ‘battles with alcoholism and family breakdown’ has, you know, kind of been done before. It's terribly harsh, I know, to expect a true story to be original too. I mean, if the guy's life kind of reflected themes that have been oft-repeated in movies before, it's too bad. Turning him into a wild west lawman might have been a little bit, you know, non-authentic. That said, though, if the person you're making a movie about did a bunch of stuff that's been covered before, maybe he's not the best topic for a movie. I felt the movie was kind of covering old ground, and as a consequence, found my attention wandering.

Sorry, Jackson: maybe your life just wasn't interesting enough for me. Or, at least, the last bit wasn't.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 14 Jan 2004

"Portrait of the artist in self-doubt" - a review by oblie

Was Jackson Pollock one of the true artistic geniuses of the twentieth century or merely a hack with sociopathic tendencies and delusions of grandeur championed by the intelligentsia of the New York art scene eager to exploit a bankable character? Ed Harris' new (or rather "new-ish": considering that it has taken two years to achieve a release in Australia) film on the painter's life provides no answer but does an excellent job of illustrating just how this uncertainty undermined his career and personal life; how it drove his depression and alcoholism and contributed to his early death.

At the film's opening we are shown Pollock staring in slow-motion past the hangers-on and autograph hunters to someone beyond the frame and in quite traditional fashion we're brought back to this scene at the film's denouement and yes, we see whose gaze it is that he seeks and it is brilliant, it's not trite nor boring. It has been thought of and executed with care and diligence and it is significant, beautiful even and moments such as these abound in this intelligent work through which Ed Harris has shown glorious ability as a film-maker and has simultaneously turned in his finest performance.

Harris shows us Pollock in the nine years before his death, a time during which he moved from anonymity to the centre of the art world. Through a lens that rarely wanders we see his struggle with poverty and depression and his meeting and eventual marriage with fellow painter Lee Krasner (played with astonishing intensity by Marcia Gay Harden) who became his almost sole advocate, his carer, and companion. From a small apartment in New York City they move to an old country house where Pollock is given the chance to abandon his alcoholism and to commit all of his time to painting, thanks to the benefaction of Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan). Their lives travel well, she as the rock to which he clings, and so long as his fame continues to rise he seems as content as he might ever be but things go awry when his celebrity begins to peak and wane and soon he is onto the spiral downward that looms from the beginning.

Based upon the book Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Pollock is a stunningly articulate film about an enduring relationship of need and insecurity. We are not expected to love Pollock, we are not expected even to like him (although it is obvious that Harris does), we are expected to recognise that the artist did not have an easy time with anything, least of all himself.

oblie gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 22 Oct 2002

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 7.50
Lowest rating: 6 (by mino)
Highest rating: 9 (by oblie)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. very nice

    A comment from antonio on Mon 07 Mar 2005 18:54 #

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