By Adam Ray Palmer
Before coming to the 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival, I did a little research on the movie Seberg. To my surprise, there was already a significant buzz around this political thriller.
Inspired by real events, Benedict Andrews directs with Kristen Stewart, Jack O’Connell, Anthony Mackie, Vince Vaughn, Zazie Beets and Margaret Qualley all starring.
Set in the late 60s and early 70s, the narrative centres around the French New Wave darling and Breathless star, Jean Seberg, who in the late 1960s was targeted by Hoover's FBI because of her political and romantic involvement with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal of the Black Panther Party.
We get an early insight into the stardom Jean Seberg (a terrific turn from Kristen Stewart) had been subjected to with lavish properties in both Los Angeles and Paris, and getting her picture taken whenever she’s out in public within the first ten minutes. It’s whilst on a plane flying to LA though that she meets Hakim Jamal (Marvel’s Anthony Mackie), an African-American activist and cousin of Malcom X. She swiftly becomes entangled in the Black Power movement as an immediate connection with Jamal is struck up.
From this meeting in the air, she quickly gets embroiled in the FBI's surveillance program COINTELPRO as they target the Black Panther Party, and now Seberg for her associations with Hakim. Jack O’Connell and Vince Vaughn play detectives Jack Solomon and Carl Kowalski respectively, the two investigators on the program following everything the party and actress get up to. What ensues is a detailed recount of what took place over a three-year period.
From reading thus far, you’d think this narrative would have you hooked, and therefore you’d be thinking wrong. Seberg, the film, is certainly not trash, but it tumbles down every pitfall that a political, catch-and-mouse thriller could do. It’s extremely frustrating as there are certainly highlights throughout, but the writing is just far too cliched. Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse’s script just feels forced, and a little jam-packed - maybe a six-part TV series would have better sufficed.
I must say though, they are serious amounts of talent in this film. The A-list line up is spectacular but they definitely needed better usage. Margaret Qualley as Detective Solomon’s wife needs more screen time as her acting career goes from strength to strength, as does Zazie Beets playing Jamal’s spouse Dorothy. Both these ladies own their limited time on the big screen, stealing memorable scenes from their counterparts.
The titular character, and real-life acting darling, is gifted a dream actress to play her. Stewart is just about flawless in this feature, with her angelic yet troubled expressions constantly anchoring every scene. Her descent into a distressed mental state is haunting to watch. She is destined for an Oscar when the right film lands for her.
It’s such an exasperating movie because all the right components are there to make an incredible picture. But in the end, Benedict Andrews (second-time director after 2016’s Una) is forced to create his Seberg story like a puzzle being pushed together, even if the pieces don’t quite fit. If it wasn’t for Kristen’s performance, this movie really could have gone awry.
Cineroom’s rating: 3 stars
Seberg will be released in the UK later this year – certificate 15