In the late 1960s Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) was targeted by Hoover’s FBI, because of her political and romantic involvement with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), dramatically changing her life. Directed by Benedict Andrews (Una) and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, with Jack O’Connell, Zazie Beetz, Vince Vaughan and Margaret Qualley.
The most obvious place to start when talking about this film is with Kristen Stewart, she doesn’t always get the chance to deliver an intense performance but when she does, she gives it her all and Seberg is a great example of that. As soon as she appears on screen in the fantastic 60’s costumes with the close cropped strikingly blonde hair, she looks as though she’s been, very appropriately, transported off the set of a Truffaut film, so chic and confident. It’s hard to take your eyes off of her, truly not knowing what she might do next and the performance only improves as her downward spiral becomes apparent. As Jean falls apart, the fear and volatility that Stewart conveys is fantastic to watch, you know what’s coming yet you still hope that things will turn around but the severe violation she experiences by the FBI is a hard thing to escape. Stewart expertly hands you Jean’s story, her sorrow, her energy, her charisma and her dedication, it’s a real shame that so many people can’t see past her Twilight beginnings to appreciate her for the consistent and enigmatic actress that she is.
There’s some great supporting work from Anthony Mackie and Jack O’Connell, it’s slightly surprising to see the Derby native playing your typical all American man but it’s a good fit. Mackie has great charisma and a strong character in Hakim to work with, he and Stewart have solid chemistry and it’s satisfying to watch them act together. The end result shows how well this film was casted, which is its strongest asset. Taking the film as a whole, it’s far from perfect, the direction is dependable but not exciting and the writing isn’t something to shout about but the acting and heart of the story are more than enough to keep you pulled in, added to the fantastic costume work, it’s a beguiling film.
Seberg’s story is one of an intense drama with volatile flashes, you’ll be so drawn into her story that they may even make you jump. There’s even an edge of thriller to it as the FBI becomes more and more involved in the utter destruction of a woman’s life who is trying to do nothing but contribute to the civil rights movement. That tragedy comes through brilliantly in this film, the government committing violations on its citizens will probably be indefinitely relevant, especially how easily privacy can be violated in our technological age. There are areas where the film could have improved, Andrews is still a fairly new director to features and this was a challenge on a much bigger scale than his last rather intimate film, he did well for the amount he took on but it’s debatable whether directors like Jean-Marc Vallée, Debra Granik or Gus Van Sant, could have taken this to another level, we’ll just never know. The writing duo of Shrapnel and Waterhouse have also yet to hit a truly sharp note, opting for the more safe and missing an opportunity to really give this film some grit.
Regardless of its faults, Stewart is magnetic leading the charge on a story that will stick with you and is a slap in the face of how wasted Seberg’s talent was, how much more she had to give before the FBI entered her life and how much she lost after.