Benedict Andrews, director of “Seberg” had too many ideas, threads and actors to handle. As a result, without a clear focus, his film scratches multiple surfaces, but makes no deeper cuts or statements.
Who was Jean Seberg? An American actress who lived half of her life in France. A prominent icon of the French New Wave, thanks to her fruitful collaboration with Jean-Luc Goddard. An important part of the Hollywood entanglement in racial politics in the 60s and 70s. The case built against her, became one of the focal points of nation-wide discussion in America about FBI’s methods of investigation and handling internal security, widely known as FBI COINTELPRO.
None of it, however, matters to the director of “Seberg”.
Benedict Andrews, whose most notable achievement was a muddled drama “Una” starring Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara, tackles a clearly overwhelming material in his newest film. The plot finds Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart) at the beginning of her collaboration with the Black Panthers, a radical, anti-racism movement. When she later on becomes a lover of Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), she immediately becomes the target of the FBI.
It takes little time to see that Andrews has no real focus in “Seberg”. While the director tries to portray Seberg’s involvement with the Black Panthers, the script never provides even a brief reason as to why she acts this way, other than her carelessness and naivety. This point of view never justifies Seberg’s involvement, nor does it give enough depth to Stewart’s work. The talented actress, passionate about roles like this one, lacks proper direction too. This results in a role that translates tears, screams and worries into a blatant image of pretentious images. I was under the impression that Stewart’s see-through lingerie and eccentric costumes were sadly telling more about this character than the entire script did.
There is the political aspect too, which draws the director’s attention. “Seberg” had a seeming sense of urgency in the time of Trump’s presidency, but there’s too little argument or statement to be made here, despite its main figure being a relatively important part of the discussion about handling racism in the 60s and 70s.
Finally, there is the equally mishandled FBI investigation, where Jack O’Connelly (main FBI investigator Jack Solomon) hits his most flat role in the career. Although almost half of the screen time’s dedicated to O’Connelly (and the most pointless subplot of marriage issues), the condemnation of FBI’s methods is just too simple. At its core lies a brief performance of Vince Vaughn (yes, he’s there too), who’s an embodiment of patriarchy and blindfolded loyalty to the operation’s objectives. But again, in this structure of piling-up, overlapping issues, Vaughn’s character has little-to-no impact whatsoever.
This clueless direction’s mirrored in the wide array of A-list actors, all left with half-baked sketches to make sense of. The most dramatic ones to mourn are Margaret Qualley and Anthony Mackie. The two catalysts for O’Connelly and Stewart, they are reduced to most shallow dramas imaginable, redundant and just painful to watch. Frankly, Andrews could cut a few names off of the billed list, to benefit from less commotion and a deeper look at Seberg and her reasons behind the actions she made. Quality, Mackie and a few more would be able to work on something actually valuable too.
If there’s a plus side to “Seberg”, it has to be the work of Rachel Morrison and Jed Kurzel, responsible for cinematography and music department respectively. Morrison had a much smaller impact on the narrative than in widely successful “Mudbound”, but the photography in “Seberg” still constitutes one of few reasons to carry on. In combination with Kurzel’s pulsating, unnerving soundtrack, these two laid foundations for a far more illustrative and provoking feature.
Dir. Benedict Andrews
Hate Grade: 6/10
Overall evaluation: “Seberg” lacks a proper narrative and an anchor to keep its hollow ship from drowning. It’s not even a wasted potential, though both cinematography and soundtrack reach levels surpassing the final outcome of Benedict Andrews’ work.
Watched at the American Film Festival in Wrocław. Click here to read more reviews from the festival.