Opening 17 Sep 2020
France’s director Jean-Luc Godard’s landmark and hugely successful Breathless (1960) firmly established him in Nouvelle Vague, as did American Jean (Dorothy) Seberg became the movement’s face in the starring role, reigniting her flailing career. Five years later, living in Paris with husband Romain Gary (Yvan Attal) and son (Gabriel Sky), Jean (Kristen Stewart) departs to audition for a Hollywood production. It is during this period that Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse’s screenplay is loosely based, and that Australian Benedict Andrews directs.
Enroute to Los Angeles, Jean meets Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), now reformed and politically active in Black civil rights. Her agent (Stephen Root) tries to dissuade Jean from getting involved. Unbeknownst, Herbert Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation has set up a task force to covertly watch Black Panther Party sympathizers. Frank Ellroy (Colm Meaney) assigns Carl (Vince Vaughn) and Jack (Jack O’Connell) to cover Jamal. With Jean’s arrival, their boring surveillance juices up; under scrutiny, it transpires “America’s sweetheart” supports Black human rights issues. Jean is put under surveillance; Jack’s long hours annoy wife Linette (Margaret Qualley), and their lack of communication concerns her. Weeks pass; Jean’s contribution to Dorothy (Zazie Beetz) for the Jamals’ children center is sizable. When Jean hosts a money-raising event, Romain meets Hakim; the lurking FBI team salivates when they spot BPP co-founder Bobby Seele there. Next, Hoover condescendingly overlooks the increased intimidation toward Jean. “Before you were collateral, now you’re in the crosshairs,” she is warned. It is only a matter of time before major cracks appear throughout Jean’s life.
Kristen Stewart’s first-rate performance, with Anthony Mackie and a strong supporting cast holds the audience's attention, despite the film’s flaws. Best summed up as misdirection, four storylines are packed into 96-minutes: the Actress / personal issues, the Good Agent / wife angle, Black civil rights, and Voyeurism, which effectively relegates each a measure of muddling mundanity. Had director Andrews concentrated on direction and with editor Pamela Martin tightened its length, Seberg had the potential to be far better; Jed Kurzel’s music and Rachel Morrison’s cinematography are good. Clearly, Jean Seberg’s death was mysterious in direct proportion to FBI involvement. Just as, Seberg clearly lived a generation, or two, before her time, “If you can change one mind, you can change the world." (Marinell Haegelin)