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TIFF 2019 Review: Seberg

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Image Courtesy of TIFF

Jean Seberg was a screen star, making a resounding debut in Joan of Arc (where she actually sustained an injury for being ‘burned at the stake’).  What she didn’t realize was that in her future she would suffer similar persecution, watching the destruction of her life, reputation and career.  Director Benedict Andrews attempts to bring her need for activism and her eventual demise to life in Seberg.

Paris, 1968.  Jean (Kristen Stewart) is about to depart for Los Angeles where she is shooting a film, leaving her husband and son behind.  She seems restless and unimpressed by what Hollywood has to offer.  Jean would rather leave the popular roles to Shirley MacLaine, she wants to do work that means something.  On the trip, Jean happens to run into Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a leader for civil rights, and while disembarking the plane takes a photo with a group of activists.  She begins to visit Hakim to determine what she can do in order to help the cause.  What she doesn’t realize is that the FBI has their eyes on him, interested in stopping any activism in its tracks.  And now they have eyes on her as well.

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“You run around here with a hand full of nails looking for a cross to die on,” Hakim says, concerned for her safety as her involvement with his organization and then the Black Panthers starts to deepen. The FBI’s surveillance of her intensifies, but she doesn’t stop.  Instead, Jean becomes suspicious of everyone and everything, especially as the government works to sabotage her and her career, sending her over the edge.

Stewart looks positively radiant in this film, taking over Jean’s persona.  The costume design helps, being often stunning works of 60’s and 70’s fashion.  Stewart remains one of the more intriguing actors of her generation and her performance here is just one more step to solidifying her position as an unconventional lead.  She is simply fascinating to watch.  Between this and Personal Shopper, any question of her acting talent should be erased.

Unfortunately, her performance just isn’t enough to lift this biopic to epic heights, just passable ones. While the story of the FBI’s involvement in Seberg’s life is particularly compelling, it seems to fall flat. The film looks great (thanks to cinematography by academy award nominee Rachel Morrison), the supporting cast is decent, but the plot seems to plod and remains superficial. I can’t help but think with all the complexities of this intriguing story that it would have probably done better as a limited series instead of a 100-minute movie.

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