94 – Pollock

Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris) is a starving, alcoholic expressionist artist in New York City during World War II. The movie is told in flashback, as Pollock’s story has been illustrated by a Life magazine article (complete with pictures) covering his career to that point. When the movie begins, the artist is living with his brother in a tiny apartment and occasionally exhibiting a piece or two at local galleries. Then fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) discovers his work and puts her own career aside in order to help further his. The couple falls in love and moves to the Hamptons so that Jackson may concentrate more on his work than on his drinking.

This works for a while, but as with so many geniuses, Pollock’s life is never rosey. Even when Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan) champions him, he still turns to booze. And folks, when Jackson Pollock gets drunk (at least according to the movie), he gets mean. Violent. Enraged. And even sober, he seems a little off-center, like he was smacked with a two-by-four once when still in his formative years.

As with many biopics, there are cliches. But most people’s lives have cliches – it’s only when we see the cliches in a movie that we even consider them to be cliches. Jackson rises, he falls, he fights with the people who are trying to help him, and so on. This doesn’t make any of his life seem less real, however, mostly because of a stellar performance from Harris (who also directed). Harris’s Pollock is multilayered, but he’s never portrayed as a nice guy to whom bad things happen; some of his misery is self-inflicted, and some is well deserved. But at the same time, Harris doesn’t demonize Pollock; he’s shown to be human, just not humane. It’s a fine line that most actors find very difficult to tread, but somehow the veteran actor pulls it off.

As his wife, lover, muse, and agent, Marcia Gay Harden is absolutely mesmerizing. You may recall that she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar for her work here, and she undeniably deserved the accolade. She turns in a performance that really belies her mostly unsung acting career. Even better, the chemistry between Harris and Gay Harden is fascinating; you can easily believe they’re lovers and fighters in real life.

And Jackson’s paintings are not given short shrift, either; one would not have blamed the producers for showing less of his work and more of the actors interacting with each other, because expressionist art is extremely subjective, and the producers do run the risk of people saying to themselves, “Sheesh, my kid could paint better than that!” Well, too bad. Maybe someday that kid will get a great biographical movie, too.

Pollock: 8


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