Pollock

Directed by Ed Harris
Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jennifer Connelly, Jeffrey Tambor.
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
March 8, 2001

Julian Schnabel's Basquiat was the first biopic about a 20th Century American artist, but Jean-Michel Basquiat seemed an unlikely choice for a subject. Jackson Pollock is generally regarded as the most important American artist of the last century, and his story has been waiting to hit the screen since his untimely death in 1956. Ed Harris finally took it upon himself to produce, direct, and star in this long-awaited film.

Pollock begins during World War II, when Pollock was still a struggling painter in New York. His work was unique, but not selling like the works of Pablo Picasso and his friend-but-rival Willem de Kooning (Val Kilmer). One day, another artist from his neighborhood, Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), drops by unannounced to see what he was doing in his studio.

They quickly become lovers, and she helps him get into more prestigious circles. In 1942, Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan) finally took notice, and commissioned his first one-man show and a mural for her mansion on Lexington Avenue. >From there, Pollock gained fame as a major abstract artist, and eventually moved out to East Hampton. In his secluded studio on the farm, he developed his revolutionary drip technique and became, for a moment, the biggest artist in the world. Unfortunately, this success did little to curb his self-destruction.

Pollock's life is a perfect fit for a film, and could have been made into a trashy Movie of the Week, but Harris knew that it deserved better. He gives an incredible performance, one of the best of his career, and makes this film a serious depiction of the artist without any Hollywood sensationalism. If the film had been too glossy, it would have been untrue to the spirit of Pollock, who eschewed elitist attitudes and over-intellectualization of his work.

For this portrayal, Harris has been nominated for an Academy Award, but this is no one-man show. Harden has also received a well-deserved nomination for her role. Krasner was also a great artist, but her career was largely on hold while she was busy being Mrs. Jackson Pollock. She was no cliché co-dependent wife of an alcoholic, and Harden finds the depth in this character. The most powerful moment in the film comes when she makes you realize why she stays with Pollock, even though he's a hopeless drunk and a philanderer. I don't want to give away too much, but I will say that it doesn't resemble any tearful confession one might see on "Oprah".

It's a shame that this film took so long to make it to theatres, missing a decent shot of landing in my top twenty films of 2000. Instead, it serves as an oasis amid the desert of Hollywood's winter season. I thank Harris for at least providing that, and hopefully more people across the country will be able to see this film instead of having to settle on watching a dog outwit David Arquette.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Pollock (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Pollock (2000) -- VHS
Pollock (2000) -- DVD
Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith -- Paperback
Pollock: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan