Pollock


Directed by: Ed Harris
Written by:Barbara Turner, Susan Emshwiller
Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Val Kilmer, Jeffrey Tambor, Jennifer Connolly
Released: October 31, 2002
Grade: A-

In March 2001, I placed a $250 wager on Kate Hudson to win the Academy Award for best supporting actress.  She was a clear favourite but in the biggest upset of the last ten years, the Oscar went to the longest shot in the field, Marcia Gay Harden for her role in Pollock.  Despite being overlooked for both a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nomination, she rained on my parade getting home at 25-1.

I’d heard little about the film and it had completely disappeared from memory until the trailers started popping up at the Palace Centro.  Almost two years after being released in America, the film has found an Australian distributor and is being screened for all to see.

The film has been a passionate journey for Ed Harris.  Harris had always been touched by Jackson Pollock’s story and bought the rights many years ago with plans of playing the title role.  Like any independent film, finance was hard to come by.  Finally, the opportunity presented itself and not only did Harris give “an honest, true performance” (his words), he made a stylish directorial debut.

Jackson Pollock was an American painter who leapt from obscurity in 1949.  His brand of unique art had him revered within critic circles but few others knew of his ability and he struggled to make a living.  Driven by the unwavering support of his wife, Lee Krasner (Harden), Pollock’s notoriety blossomed when the national publication, Life Magazine, ran a full article on his works.

While the painting itself seemed so simple, the rest of his life was anything but.  He battled depression and constant self-doubt.  Despite his success, his mind would never allow him to enjoy it.  Alcohol was an easy answer and it eventually would destroy their marriage.  Drunk behind the wheel, he died in a 1956 car accident.  A career cut short.

Pollock intelligently explores the issues of depression without resorting to oversimplification.  It’s an incurable sickness and the screenplay does not preach to us any solution of beating it.  We just watch Jackson Pollock fight his demons with no means of escape.  It’s reminiscent of seeing Russell Crowe’s performance of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.

Marcia Gay Harden’s performance is fantastic and I admire her as one of my favourite under appreciated actors.  If you haven’t heard of her, it’s probably because she’s always playing the “supporting” role.  Recent films include Space Cowboys and Meet Joe Black but her career began on Broadway and still returns there quite often.  Ed Harris also began in the theatre (it was where he met Harden) and gives one of his career defining performances.  You can feel his devotion to the character and thankfully, he too received an Academy Award nomination (although lost to Russell Crowe in Gladiator).

This is quality filmmaking and storytelling.  The two year wait has been worth it.