Film Review - 'Pollock

Ed Harris paints a striking picture of a legend

Nearly 50 years after his death, the work of Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock still makes for heated discussions. He is best known for his famous drip paintings, which he created by standing over a canvas and letting the paint fall from the brush. His detractors dubbed him "Jack the Dripper," but if anyone could paint as he did, why are his pictures easy to spot in galleries full of modern art?

The debate over Pollock's talent is likely to continue, but actor and first-time director Ed Harris ("The Truman Show") is well aware of one aspect of Pollock that makes his story cinematic: His technique was remarkably photogenic (it doesn't hurt that it is shot by ace cinematographer Lisa Rinzler, "Three Seasons"). As Harris recreates the painter's work (based on extensive research), the results are exciting in a primal sort of way. He struts around the canvas energetically applying the colors. It's as if a volcanic force is emerging from his brushes.

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Ed Harris, left, stars as temperamental painter Jackson Pollock, and Marcia Gay Harden portrays his artist wife in "Pollock."

Because of his uniqueness, Pollock was one of the first American artists to get recognition on an international stage and also was one of the earliest to capture the popular imagination. While he may have opened up the possibilities for painting, his personal options were much more limited. Plagued by an almost crippling shyness and a fatal attraction to the bottle, Pollock might have ended up in the gutter where he sometimes slept. His paintings would have remained unseen.

Fortunately, he was discovered by fellow painter Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden, "Space Cowboys"). Not only did Krasner marry him, but she also promoted his work as part of a personal crusade and did what she could to keep him away from alcohol and people who'd exploit him. It's this aspect of "Pollock" that leaves the strongest impression. Harris and Harden have an explosive on-screen chemistry, making their shifts from affection to anger consistently compelling. While there are a few loud "Oscar-moments" (both Harris and Harden have earned Academy Award nods), "Pollock" is at its strongest during some of its more understated moments. During their initial meeting, Pollock, avoiding eye-contact, barely says a word as Krasner boisterously enters the room. During a later sequence, Pollock boasts about his sobriety, but his shaking hands indicate he still has a jones for booze.

By concentrating on scenes like these, "Pollock" manages to get around a lot of the clich�s that plague biopics about artists. Instead of depicting Pollock's painting as a sign of a deep madness, Harris and screenwriters Barbara Turner ("Georgia") and Susan J. Emshwiller, working from the book "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga" by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, correctly point out that Pollock was most productive when sober and content. When alcoholism overwhelmed him, he did little except have extramarital affairs, particularly with Ruth Klingman (Jennifer Connelly). One begins to feel sorry for her because Pollock is a rather unpleasant and dull person when under the influence.





ReviewRating: ***(R)

Having spent 10 years pushing the project, Harris' commitment to presenting an unflinching portrait of the painter is commendable. Still, by the time Pollock has met his end, it feels a bit anticlimactic � the pacing can be blamed. It might have been interesting to bring up how Pollock supported Krasner's painting when few others in their circle would. Also, some of the familiar actors in the cast aren't well-used. Jeffrey Tambor ("There's Something About Mary") is great as wisecracking-but-supportive critic Clement Greenberg, but Val Kilmer has little to do as Willem de Kooning, a painter who rivaled Pollock. But Harris' sincerity usually wins out. It also doesn't hurt that he resembles the artist.

Pollock's paintings may be reminiscent of something that gave one indigestion. Nonetheless, the enthusiasm Harris devotes to his subject matter leaves one with a positive impression of both the film and himself.

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