Combustible Celluloid
With: Kristen Stewart, Jack O'Connell, Anthony Mackie, Margaret Qualley, Zazie Beetz, Yvan Attal, Vince Vaughn, Stephen Root, Colm Meaney, Gabriel Sky
Written by: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse
Directed by: Benedict Andrews
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content/nudity and some drug use
Running Time: 96
Date: 12/13/2019

Seberg (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Star That Roared

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Once it becomes clear that this biopic is really only half about Jean Seberg, then it starts to work in its own fascinating, tragic way, driven by Kristen Stewart's fierce, fervent lead performance.

In Seberg, it's 1968 and actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) is well-known for her roles in movies like Bonjour Tristesse and Breathless. She now lives in Paris with her husband Romain Gary (Yvan Attal) and their son. On a plane trip to Los Angeles, she meets African American activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), and then poses for a photo with him giving the Black Power salute.

Jean begins an affair Hakim, and also donates money to his cause. Meanwhile, since the FBI has targeted Hakim as a "subversive," Jean also becomes a target. Two agents, the kind Jack Solomon (Jack O'Connell) and the ruthless Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) are assigned to follow, bug, and photograph her. Hounded and scrutinized, her life starts to fall apart, and Jack's conscience begins to bother him. Can he undo the damage that has been done?

Directed by Benedict Andrews, Seberg — which probably ought to have been called Seberg vs. the FBI — introduces us to a headstrong Jean; a prologue shows how she was actually burned during the burning-at-the-stake sequence of Saint Joan, her first film, and survived. Throughout the movie, Stewart wears Seberg's trademark short, pixie haircut and an array of dazzling fashions, proving that she's not afraid. Yet the movie captures her humanity, the way she carries her many burdens, and it's possible to empathize with her.

O'Connell is the movie's other main character, a reader of Captain America comics, and married to med student Linette (Margaret Qualley), whom he's unable to talk to about his top-secret work. He's likewise an engaging soul, and the eventual meeting between he and Seberg is a necessary coda.

Despite some overblown moments and simplistic shortcuts, the movie looks great, with fine cinematography by Black Panther's Rachel Morrison, emphasizing a trapped feel even within the open spaces of Los Angeles. And director Andrews allows even the supporting characters to come to life; Qualley is especially good, as is Zazie Beetz as Hakim Jamal's wounded wife. Seberg may not be a definitive biopic of this lovely, sad celebrity, but it's still a fascinating movie.

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