April 3, 2001 -- "Pollock" is an unblinking look at one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. It shows that as a person he was as small as his talent was large, petty, self-centered, self-destructive and adolescent in his relationships with women. A portrait of his wife, Lee Krasner, also emerges from the film, as a fine artist in her own right who dedicated herself to the task of showing the world the giant talent within Jackson Pollock.
Academy award nominee Ed Harris stars as Jackson Pollock, and he directs the film as well. Marcia Gay Harden of "Space Cowboys" won a best supporting actress Oscar (even though she's a co-star of the movie, not a supporting actress) for her fine performance as Lee Krasner in this film. It is a finely nuanced performance. She comes across not as a martyr, but as a woman with a noble purpose. She takes a lot of emotional abuse from Pollock, but when she's had enough, she walks away, proving she's not the dependent one. One of the highlights of the film is when the couple discusses having a child. Krasner's performance, as first, stern and unemotional, quickly switching to very emotional, is startling. She shows a woman in control, thoughtful, determined, resolute, but wounded by a relationship with a man who takes and takes.
Harris' performance is no less nuanced. He portrays a man of many moods, manic depressive, alcoholic, abusive, fragile, in desperate need of love and recognition. We see him in every color of emotion from giddy elation to black depression. What makes this film distinctive, however, is how it portrays the complex relationship between Pollock and his wife. Their relationship seems to take on a life of its own. We see them go from poverty to stardom. While Krasner thrives on this recognition, Pollock can't handle it. He becomes ever more self destructive and abrasive.
Also appearing in the film are Amy Madigan of "Field of Dreams" as patron of the arts Peggy Guggenheim, Jennifer Connelly of "Requiem for a Dream" as Ruth Klingman, a friend of Pollock's, Jeffrey Tambor of "Girl, Interrupted" plays Clement Greenberg, an art critic who befriends Pollock and Val Kilmer of "The Saint," plays fellow artist Willem de Kooning. The screenplay was written by Barbara Turner and Susan Emshwiller, based on the book "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga" by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.
Harris' direction is self-assured. The sequences showing Pollock's painting techniques are masterful, the best I've ever seen. It is an intricate dance involving Harris, the original music by Jeff Beal, the cinematography by Lisa Rinzler, and film editing by Kathryn Himoff. The music seems to be in perfect synchronization with the beat of the brush strokes. Harris' painting technique is so convincing you really think you are watching Pollock at work. The rest of the film works well enough, but it is fairly slow going. There's not a lot of energy in many of the scenes because of the slow emotional evolution of the characters, and some long, uninterrupted camera shots. The painting scenes bristle with energy, however. That's where the passion of this film lies. There is some interesting camera work in the film by Rinzler. One scene seems to use a combination of camera motion and telephoto lens motion (or some other trickery, like a blue screen effect) to make the outdoor background behind Pollock move, while he keeps still. It is a bit like the stairwell scene in "Vertigo."
Harris takes a very evenhanded approach to the story. You don't really have much sympathy for Pollock, because of his abrasive character, and you can't really feel sorry for Krasner, either, because she is the one in charge and she sure knew what she was getting into. Harris does not take sides in his depiction of the relationship. Sometimes it seems you must be a bit of a madman to be an artistic genius, but then again, maybe it only seems that way because madmen are practically the only subjects for biographical films like this. This film rates a B.
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