Pollock

on December 15, 2000 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   The tumultuous life and death of painter Jackson Pollock has been turned into a less than tumultuous film biography. Pollock (Ed Harris), now considered by many to be one of the best American modernist artists of the 20th century, was also a violent alcoholic, prone to mental illness, and someone who spent most of life struggling for fame and acceptance in the art world. It's the stuff of exciting moviemaking, but "Pollock" is decidedly underwhelming.

   Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning biography, "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga" by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, "Pollock" dutifully trots out the high and low points of the man's life, including his insane rages, his tempestuous relationship with Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), a fellow artist who sublimated her own career to boost Pollock's, and his insecurities, even as he became one of America's best known, most controversial talents. But the psychological underpinnings of the film are skin deep. Pollock's jealousy of his four artistic brothers and his lifelong attempt to win his stern mother's approval are briefly dealt with but never reverberate emotionally. And Harris, while convincing enough, still turns in a dull performance. It doesn't help that the actor, making his directorial debut, is playing opposite Harden ("Space Cowboys"), a consistently weak actress who fails to galvanize the screen the way Krasner galvanized Pollock.

   "Pollock" is beautifully shot by Lisa Rinzler ("Three Seasons") and there is a nice cameo by Jeffrey Tambor as Clement Greenberg, the first art critic to appreciate Pollock, but none of the other characters in Pollock's orbit register. Harris has said that "Pollock" was a passion that he spent 10 years making, but if so, little of that has been translated to the screen.    Starring Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden and Amy Madigan. Directed by Ed Harris. Written by Barbara Turner and Susan J. Emshwiller. Produced by Fred Berner, Ed Harris and John Kilik. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Running time: 119 min.

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