Directed By Ed Harris. Starring Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeffrey Tambor, Amy Madigan, Robert Knott, Jennifer Connelly.
Despite the fact that Ed Harris was nominated for an Oscar and Marcia Gay Harden won one at last year's ceremony, inexplicably 'Pollock' is only surfacing here now. A pet project of Ed Harris' for years, this is all about the career of America's most famous painter, Jackson Pollock. Harris's Dad gave him a biography and commented on the physical likeness his son shared with the modern artist. The book was the Pulitzer-winning 'Jackson Pollock: An American Saga' by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith and Harris commissioned a screenplay written by Barbara Turner and Susan J. Emshwiller.
This is bleak, depressing stuff that never soft pedals the inalienable fact that Pollock was a horrible human being, brimful of self obsession and self loathing. It starts with Pollock in his late twenties being supported by his brother, Sande (Robert Knott) and his family in NYC. Sande gets a job outside town and Jackson's on his own again. When out of the blue, fellow painter Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) takes a shine to him, it seems there's always going to be someone to take care of Pollock.
Krasner was an astute critic and recognised the potential of his work. She promptly jumped into his life as organiser, domestic, publicist and lover. She subjugated her own artistic goals in favour of his and almost certainly saved him from obscurity. She arranges for influential critic, Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor) to view the paintings, which leads to commissioned work for arts patron, Peggy Guggenheim (Harris's wife, Amy Madigan) and eventually a one-man show at her gallery. All of this advocacy and love the boorish Pollock accepts without a hint of gratitude. In life Krasner's role was a thankless one, in film, this is a wonderfully meaty character for which Harden more than deserved the plaudits.
For this utterly unsympathetic portrait of Pollock to engage, Harris had to convince us that this man was indeed a terrific painter. This film manages to show what most biopics conveniently neglect: the subject constantly doing what it is he or she is famous for doing. Harris really paints for much of the film; he does so with utter confidence and shows us the effects of each brush stroke or splatter.
As Pollock's struggle was far more a struggle with his inner demons of mental illness, depression and alcoholism, rather than exterior forces, this becomes a very interiorised film. This is both a positive and a negative. Pollock was an anti-social character who repelled people and deliberately strove to shut people out, so it is right that this interiorised way of portraying him was employed. However, in choosing this strategy, the film fails to effectively put him in context with the other artists of the day.
While the post-WWII art scene in New York is vividly drawn, there are simply not enough scenes with his contemporaries to have any understanding of him other than that of a psychological mess stuck in the vacuum of his studio and the bottle. The inner circle of artists and critics that he trusted are never more than two-dimensional, with Val Kilmer's De Kooning and John Heard's Tony Smith wheeled out for an odd party or opening. However, as an intense study of Pollock and Krasner's highly destructive relationship and a convincing portrait of a tormented perfectionist at work, this succeeds wonderfully.