In the late 1960s, American actress Jean Seberg grew bored of acting and became enthralled with the activist politics of the era, particularly the Black Panthers.
Ever since her spell as Bella in the Twilight film franchise, that Kristen Stewart has been hampered with the stereotype of an emotionless actor. Many memes have been shared of her headshots supposedly showing a range of emotions but someone has copy and pasted the same image into all of the slots. It's a form of online victimisation that has no doubt negatively impacted her Hollywood career to a certain extent. In reality, it is not so much her stoic stare, but her trademark overbite that has really given her this reputation. the overbite is gorgeously adorable but it draws your eyes away from hers, and that is the problem; she has incredibly emotive eyes, and there is no better example than in Benedict Andrews latest feature film, Seberg.
Benedict Andrews is relatively new in the directorial world, with only one feature film prior to this (Una), and a couple of live theatrical productions. On the other hand, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse have carved a niche with their experience in writing biographical screenplays (previously involved with Frankie & Alice and Race). These three come together in an attempt to recreate the deceitful actions of the FBI that led to the death of the French New Wave actor Jean Seberg in the late 1960s.
From a visual standpoint, Seberg is stunning. Following Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and The Haunting of Sharon Tate, Seberg is yet another film that is looking to portray Hollywood in the 1960s. From the colourful and vibrant outfits to the swanky cars, creative architecture, and racial divides, the environments are beautifully constructed with well-executed set design, and period-accurate costuming. The bold, solid colours combined with a warm colour palette, and a colour grading that accentuates that retro/vintage look, Seberg really draws you into the time period.
The film revolves around the topic of racial discrimination and the FBI's role in surveillance, infiltration, perjury, and police harassment of anyone that supported the Black Panther Party (the revolutionary political organization that challenged police brutality and established community social programs for black minority groups). In what is an interesting choice, Waterhouse, Shrapnel, and Andrews have chosen to go in the direction of having two main characters, Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart), and Jack Solomon (played by Jack O'Connell), covering both perspectives from the point-of-view of the FBI and of those being harassed for supporting the minority groups.
What is also an interesting choice, is how flawed the characters are. These are not people whose character traits are being cherry-picked to sway the audience's opinions of who was in the right or wrong. Stalking, harassing, lying, cheating, the list of reasons not to like these characters is long, and--to the detriment of the film--not enough time is spent providing enough backstory for the audience to want to get invested in either of the characters. The actions of the government agency are clearly deplorable, and while Seberg is literally depicted as a martyr in the opening scene, and compared to Jesus Christ in later dialogue, her own actions reek of white privilege and naivety.
It is this lack of a clear moral and ethical compass on any side of the issue that muddies the water and makes it all the more difficult for the audience to find a character worth empathising with, especially when the FBI agent is the closest thing to a protagonist (or a good guy forced to do questionable things for the "greater good").
Ignoring the unusual narrative decisions, the acting is well-done. Jack O'Connell is convincing as the ethically uncertain FBI agent that becomes twisted and mentally unstable due to the increasingly controversial acts he is being required to perform. While the film is titled Seberg, O'Connell is actually the focal point of the film, rather than Jean Seberg herself. None of the characters are delved into deeply enough to really answer the question of "why?". Instead, the audience is fed a reenactment that skates along the surface of what can be read in a Wikipedia article. No in-depth analysis of the FBI's COINTELPRO program. No reasoning provided as to why Jean Seberg or Hakim Jamal would move for a physical relationship with anyone apart from their respective partners.
Kristen Stewart does do a great job with what little the script provides. She oozes with the confidence of a hugely popular actor in their prime, with such little details as the completely nonchalant way in which she strips off during costume changes; the lack of any sign of hesitation, the continued dialogue, no backing off from the camera, nor conservative editing it post-production, these all speak to high levels of professionalism Seberg (and Stewart) have. It doesn't feel like Stewart is playing Seberg. She has fully immersed herself into the role, and you can feel the uncertainty and paranoia increasing as the FBI continually harass her.
Much like how Joker was an observation of Arthur Fleck's descent into madness, Seberg attempts to do the same, endeavouring to correlate every step that the FBI took with every step towards the unknown circumstances of Seberg's death. Seberg, however, lacks the depth necessary to truly pull it off, and ends up with a non-commital biopic that doesn't provide a satisfying payoff to the intrigue that the premise sets up. Beautifully arranged and shot, but devoid of any real substance, Seberg manages to scrounge up some stellar acting performances from a poorly constructed screenplay.
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