Starring: Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Kristen Stewart, Anthony Mackie, Jack O'Connell
Director: Benedict Andrews
Writer(s): Anna Waterhouse, Joe Shrapnel
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland
In 1968, actress Jean Seberg leaves her beloved Paris and husband Romain Gary to travel to Los Angeles for an audition for Paint Your Wagon. She becomes romantically entangled with Hakim Jamal, an associate of Malcolm X, which brings her to the attention of the FBI. They intend to exploit Seberg's connections to the Black Panthers to gain valuable intelligence on the movement. FBI agent Jack Solomon is asked to closely monitor Seberg and apply the necessary pressure to bend her to the agency's will.
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LondonNet Film Review
Starting in the late 1960s, the FBI's counterintelligence programme under President Nixon and FBI director J Edgar Hoover targeted Iowa-born actress Jean Seberg for her involvement with the Black Panthers. Documents show that the FBI planted false rumours in newspaper gossip columns to suggest that Seberg's pregnancy was the result of infidelity with a black lover. A distraught Seberg subsequently took an overdose of sleeping pills. She survived the suicide attempt but her daughter, delivered prematurely, died two days after birth...
The FBI's persecution of Seberg, who became an icon of the French New Wave when she starred in Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 picture Breathless, should be rich pickings for filmmakers. Sadly, director Benedict Andrews fails to hit the mother lode in his opaque drama, which speculates about Seberg's emotional turmoil in the most simplistic terms. Kristen Stewart is luminous in her portrayal of Seberg but she's repeatedly short-changed by screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, who distil each cruel turn of events in expository dialogue like when her lover summarises: "There's a war against black people in America. You just got caught in the crossfire."
In May 1968, Jean Seberg (Stewart) leaves Paris, her screenwriter husband Romain Gary (Yvan Attal) and young son Diego (Gabriel Sky) to travel to Los Angeles to audition for the role of Elizabeth in Paint Your Wagon. She's indifferent to the role - "It's a western musical. It's irrelevant. I want to make a difference!" - but hard-nosed agent Walt Breckman (Stephen Root) knows it's a savvy move for Jean's career. Their flight is interrupted by outspoken black civil right activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), who argues that Malcolm X's widow should be given a seat in first class. His impassioned rhetoric impresses Jean, who raises a fist in solidarity with the Black Panthers on the airport runway as photographers swarm. Soon after, Jean becomes romantically entangled with Hakim, who has a wife (Zazie Beetz), which brings her to the attention of the FBI. Los Angeles division chief Frank Ellroy (Colm Meaney) intends to exploit Seberg's sympathy for Hakim to gain valuable intelligence on the Black Panthers. FBI agent Jack Solomon (Jack O'Connell) and partner Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) are tasked with closely monitoring Seberg. Their interference has a profound effect on the actress' mental well-being and she slides inexorably towards self-destruction.
Seberg feels like a missed opportunity considering the calibre of talent in front of the camera. Stewart lays herself physically bare more convincingly that she is able to expose her character's psychological fragility, while O'Connell's conflicted FBI agent embodies the frustration we feel about words left unsaid. The disjointed narrative is counterbalanced by eye-catching period details.
- Sam Cannon
To Thursday 13th February
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To Thursday 20th February
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