Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Benedict Andrews (Una) from a script by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (Race), Seberg is a new political thriller inspired by true events in the life of French New Wave actress Jean Seberg. Perhaps a bit too sensationalized but still frequently riveting, Kristen Stewart’s phenomenal turn is likely to be the film’s biggest draw.
The movie follows Seberg as she is targeted by the FBI for her relationship with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal. Unlike a standard biopic, Andrews’s film does not present the viewer with any new or revelatory information about its subject. Instead, the movie is much more superficial, playing out like a genre film more than anything else.
Still, even if the movie doesn’t provide the level of insight for which fans of the actress may be hoping, it manages to be a mostly entertaining political thriller. With a very brisk runtime and a very cinematic story, Andrews is able to easily keep the audience’s attention. A few over-the-top moments do end up feeling excessively melodramatic, but there are plenty of other excellent moments to boot.
Arguably the biggest mistake that the film makes is that it attempts to balance too many storylines. Had the movie focused exclusively on Seberg, her relationship with Jamal, and the effects it had on her personal life and career, the film would have been much more effective. However, the movie also contains an underdeveloped subplot about the FBI agent who is investigating her, and this is relatively distracting.
It is obvious what Shrapnel and Waterhouse were trying to do with these parallel storylines — both Seberg and the agent are torn between their professional obligations and what they believe in their hearts to be right — yet there simply isn’t enough time for this other character to be explored. The biggest disappointment of the film is that it had the potential to make an extraordinary political statement, but this bite just fizzles out.
That said, Kristen Stewart gives an excellent performance as Seberg. Unlike many actors who play other actors, Stewart isn’t simply doing an impersonation (although the recreations of some of Seberg’s footage are pretty stunning). Despite the scripts many shortcomings, it does give Stewart plenty to work with on an emotional level, so it’s really a shame that she wasn’t campaigned harder this awards season.
Andrews also does a very good job on a technical level. The use of color in the movie is amazing and does a great job of transporting the viewer back to the era in which the film was set. Additionally, Andrews is able to build suspense over the course of the movie, playing into Stewart’s convincing portrayal of paranoia to create a feeling of anxiety.
Seberg may not offer the best possible version of this story, but it is inarguably very entertaining. Thanks to an excellent lead performance and some solid execution, this film is much better than some would have you believe.
Seberg is now playing in theaters.