Jacob Richardson | 15/01/2019
Despite a magnetic Kristen Stewart, Seberg is only ever able to barely justify its existence.
Set in the 1960’s, Seberg follows actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) as she returns from France back to Hollywood to continue her successful acting career, only to run into Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) on the flight back. They begin a passionate love affair that sweeps Jean Seberg into the fight for racial equality, and more devastatingly into the funding bucket for the Black Panthers. Alas, such a move for her also brings attention from the FBI - specifically agents Jack Solomon (Jack O’Connell) and Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn), who are assigned to surveil her.
Directed by Benedict Andrews, Seberg is a political thriller without a huge amount of intrigue. Andrews makes protagonists of both Jack Solomon and Jean Seberg, and in doing so allows us access points to both sides of the story - a technique perfect for ensuring that one-sidedness is avoided, but imperfect in creating an entertaining, intriguing and dramatic movie. By being given windows into both sides, this never feels as much like a thriller as it should. When Jean is ‘paranoid’ about her being watched, we never question it or her sanity, because we know she is.
Kristen Stewart, it must be said, is fantastic in her role as the young ingenue actress. Huge in France, emotionally scarred by an incident involving a former director and a fiery pyre, and absolutely deadset on doing something meaningful with her work and life, Seberg is a strong and powerful icon, aiding an even more power and important piece of iconography in the Black Panther movement and the fight for civil rights. Stewart brings all the necessary strength and courage to the role to convince us that this actress really is willing to stand up against the powers that be, but then also all the vulnerability and, frankly, crazy needed to pull us through such moments as the destruction of a marriage, and attempted suicide, or the grip of paranoia.
Mackie and O’Connell both do well, but nothing of particular memorability. Vaughn continues his trajectory away from comedic performances and towards more dramatic, confronting roles - here playing on his former film history and convincing us he is a generally good, jocular guy, only to showcase his horrible misogyny amongst his family at a dinner party and then to eventually turn into a spectral beast haunting Jean beyond anything his counterpoint partner could ever deem acceptable.
The film occasionally lapses into moments of beauty - in particular some of the costume work is remarkable, and some cinematography, particularly with Jean’s house and the trailer/poster famous shot of her pointing a finger gun, is remarkable. This film focuses smartly on Kristen Stewart’s facial performance, which is nuanced and subtle enough to be deeply affecting. However, outside of some bright spots, this film frequently feels (from a technical perspective) largely staid.
Seberg wastes a great performance in a balanced retelling of Jean Seberg’s story.