Saturday, October 10, 2020

Seberg: Movie Review

Tense, enlightening and heartbreaking.
Seberg is a sublime mix of biopic and FBI thriller. Set in the 1960s, Hollywood and European actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) is on a flight back to LA from Paris and meets Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), an outspoken civil rights activist, and Jean watching blatant racial discrimination right in front of her eyes, decides she can’t be silent anymore, and joins in a simple protest.   2019

Directed by: Benedict Andrews

Screenplay by: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Jack O'Connell

It was just a photograph of her raising her first in solidarity with Jamal. In today’s world, she would probably criticized for just capitalizing on a photo op, but she followed that up with monetary donations and an earnest desire to help Jamal and the groups he was involved with. She became the White Hollywood starlet face of the civil rights movement. And, therefore, according to the FBI, the enemy of the people.

In case you weren’t previously aware, this is a true story. And based on everything I could ascertain, it is mostly true. Perhaps some minor exaggerations and combination of events to fit into the movie’s timeline, but the important points – all true. If you’re not familiar with the story of Jean Seberg, I’m saying that sentence with a lot of gravity. Her story is tragic. The filmmakers didn’t have to make anything up to make it more interesting or shocking. I had my jaw on the floor in the first act, and it only gets more insane from there.

I have read criticism that the film makes the FBI look like good people. I don’t see that at all. Most of the FBI agents portrayed in the movie are pure evil. Perhaps verging on cartoonishly evil, but these are real acts, all of which are illegal, all of which they have justified as moral and right, despite being very firmly and obviously immoral. Their justification is that Black people don’t deserve rights and aren’t equal human beings. Remember this is a true story. This is in the late 60s. The FBI is openly run by White supremacists, and in that light, it’s not surprising how little the United States has advanced in the past 50 years.

There is also criticism, that it’s just a basic biopic. It’s true this is a biopic, and not one that covers her whole life, just the last few years of it. But the last few years of her life are action-packed and chronicles a young, celebrated actress who was equal parts smart and introspective and a pretty Hollywood starlet whose life collapsed into mental illness brought on by the paranoia of being the target of the FBI. Kristen Stewart is stunning as Jean’s self-assuredness and passion gives way to paranoia and self-destruction. Except it’s not paranoia when it really is happening.

The one not wholly evil FBI agent is Jack O’Connell. Who, after being implicit in all the wrongdoings, wants to do the right thing. You can say it’s too little, too late, and in my opinion, the film is pretty open in how you want to view that.

It always comes back to biopic instead of going all in as a social issues drama or FBI thriller, but as far as subjects go, Jean Seberg is fascinating. The movie is tense, enlightening and heartbreaking. I was both educated and entertained, which is pretty much a perfect mix.