Pollock

Movie Review by Kris Griffiths

Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor

Director: Ed Harris

As well as being one of the greatest American modernist artists of the 20th century, Jackson Pollock was also a bit of a nutter. He was a manic depressive, a violent alcoholic and a man whose mind swayed precariously between genius and madness. All in all, a character about which you could make an exciting and thought-provoking film. Unfortunately, POLLOCK is neither.

The movie has been Ed Harris’ baby for about ten years apparently, which makes it all the more surprising that his final product seems half-finished. Not only starring in the title role, Harris also dons the director’s cap and is one of the film’s production team. The treatment of his subject is basically a sluggishly paced, conventional biography which follows a linear trajectory of the artist’s desultory career throughout 1940’s and 50’s New York, culminating in his untimely death in a drink-driving car crash.

The introductory phase crawls along far too slowly and features a questionable cameo appearance from Val Kilmer as contemporary artist Willem De Kooning. We eventually witness the constant struggle Pollock faces in order to break into the flourishing art scene, alongside his childlike dependence on wife and fellow artist Lee Krasner, played with exceptional verve by Marcia Gay Harden. We see them move out into the peaceful countryside for artistic inspiration, and then struggle to make ends meet on a fledgling artist’s lowly income. The most memorable sequence arrives when Pollock suddenly discovers the snaking paint technique that launches him to superstardom, and we watch in awe as he transforms a blank white canvas into a magnificent web of colour.

Of course, it’s all downhill from there as the tortured genius in true style hits the bottle big time and turns into a gibbering wreck, abusing friends and family in equal measures. The painting and boozing continues until the wife is eventually dumped and he ends up finding solace in high-speed drunken drives with his terrified mistresses. When a spectacular crash inevitably follows suit and the screen fades to black, one is left with a feeling of emptiness, not at witnessing the tragic demise of an artistic genius but at the lack of significant content in the man’s weak biographical treatment.

It is a shame because Harris does act the part with the diligence and enthusiasm of a man who has waited a decade to do so, whilst his directorial handling of the creative process scenes is as skilled as the art itself. When the paint dries, however, we are left with a classic case of form compromised with content and both suffering as a result. But credit where’s it’s due – it must have taken a lot of balls to bring Pollock’s life to the big screen and to pull it off successfully would have been a momentous task even for today’s top directors. Harris will live and learn.

3 out of 6 stars

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