Out this week in cinemas is Seberg. From director Benedict Andrews and starring Kristen Stewart Seberg follows the FBI as they bring down Jean Seberg, an adored movie star, due to her connections to the Black Panthers during the 1960s.
The film follows Jean as she tries to find focus in a life of what she sees as pointless. On a flight to an audition, she happens across member of the Black Panthers Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) the cousin of Malcolm X. She finds his passion for his cause intoxicating and with her history of helping various disenfranchised groups, she hopes to offer assistance.
Seberg: Trying to help or just a tourist?
In helping out Hakim and the Black Panthers she becomes a target of the FBI and this is where we meet the other lead of the film. Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) is your everyman, he’s trying to be the best soldier he can be and the way the director conveys this is in one simple scene. It is his opening scene and it goes as follows, he finds that his wife Linette (Margaret Qualley) has thrown out his Captain America comic and he explains to her why he adores it, why it’s important because it makes Steve Rogers the perfect embodiment of the American spirit. This young man’s adoration of the hero that represented the best of the American soldier is an effective way of telling you who Jack Solomon is.
There is an unfortunate edge to it though in that Andrews clearly sets up what kind of journey Solomon is going to go through in this film by telling you from the get-go that Jack is a good kid. It’s quite predictable and also takes away from who should be at the centre of this film, Jean Seberg.
Seberg is an unfocused film. It’s supposedly telling the story of Seberg but it goes off on two other separate plots. The first being the battle against the Black Panthers which eventually just fades into the background and the second being about Jack. As Jack rises as a FBI Agent Jean is descending into madness as she feels unease at all times. After the FBI bug her life as much as they can, they learn more and more about her and by using her to discredit Hakim they break her family life as well her mental stability. It’s disheartening to watch as the whole message of this film seems to be the powerlessness of women.
Every woman is answering to a man, kowtowing to a man, being terrified of a man and the one woman who isn’t is being actively tortured. There is one scene where Jack’s wife Linette is talking about becoming a doctor and the other wives laugh and say she’ll barely have time to be a nurse when she has her first child. Then you have Jean who is being mentally abused and the results are tragic.
Later there is a scene with Vince Vaughn’s character and his family and it is disturbing.
Vaughn’s character is very much the old guard fighting against Jean and her “radical” ways. He’s lost a son, fights with his daughter, and is losing the stability of his marriage. Though you can’t sympathise with him as he’s clearly an ignorant fool.
Seberg is fairly paint by numbers in its portrayal of the baddies and the goodie of this time period. Every character in this film you’ve seen in other films of its ilk. The FBI are trying their hardest to keep the status quo, the Black Panthers are equally trying to shake it and there is a young woman that found herself in the middle and she is damaged, possibly beyond repair by the end.
I will say though even with its bland supporting cast whose motivations don’t impact the film much there are highlights in the cast in the shape of Stewart and O’Connell. Though the plot meanders and the film doesn’t really know how to end O’Connell and especially Stewart are always interesting to watch. Stewart has somehow encapsulated that effortless presence actors of that decade had. The best way I describe it is she holds your attention with her posture and poise and even simply lighting a cigarette is art.
Ultimately though Seberg is a relatively harmless affair. Even with two compelling leads, the film cannot be elevated above average.
I don’t feel strongly about the film either way because the film wasn’t effective enough at garnering emotion out of me. The writing was decent, the plot was your usual person of interest gets in over their heads when trying to do the right thing. Check it out if you’re a fan of Jean Seberg or a fan of Kristen Stewart otherwise I’d say see some of the other films coming to cinemas this week.
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