52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #3: “Christine” (USA)

“Christine” (USA)
Directed by Antonio Campos

I very rarely screen films at the Festival that I know will get a wide theatrical release. I prefer to catch the smaller films, or those that have no hope of distribution outside of LA or NYC. But Antonio Campos’ “Christine” seemed, on paper, to be the perfect exception to the rule – an amazing cast in a film about an almost forgotten, but essential, piece of television news history was brought about due to a debilitating mental illness.

Alas, it’s a bit of a predictable mess. The dialogue can be seen coming about three train stations away…and, worse, seems to comment, with a wink wink, nudge nudge, on the time period rather than sit in it. Even the depiction of the mental illness seems over-emphasized, making us question how those around her could not have seen her slide toward the eventual outcome. The blame for this, as far as I can tell, falls squarely on Antonio Campos’ direction (with help from writer, Craig Shilowich). He seems to not quite know what to do with the choices before him. Is it a Seventies period piece? An examination of bipolar disorder when it was known as manic depression? A study of the beginning of the end for objective television news during the hysteria surrounding Watergate? In the end, he shoots for all three…aaaaand…misses. He even tries to make it funny, as well.

At least, in that regard, he succeeds…which is almost entirely due to the strength of his actors. Leaving Rebecca Hall aside for a moment, Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall, Tim Simons and the amazing Maria Dizzia, are all terrific. Three dimensional, invested, and of their time, they keep the film as grounded as possible. But it isn’t enough. Poor Ms. Hall is literally all over the place as Christine. She plays the illness, and never the cover and  showcases all the external “transgressions” she feels with none of the internalization that is part and parcel of those dealing with its everyday horror. I don’t believe it’s her fault…it comes across as a directed P.O.V., not an actor’s choice…at least I’d like to think so, as I believe she is a terrific actor. I will say that her moments as a puppeteer are exceptional, and I found myself wondering if that was due to better writing or if she had been allowed to simply do her thing.

Most egregious of all, at least in my mind, however, is the absolutely brutally and entirely misplaced score. Not bad, per se, but Danny Bensi & Suander Jurrians have written music that belongs in a different film – in a different genre, actually. Its simplistic themes don’t add much, and indeed, subtract from any drive the film has. Admittedly, I am not a fan of their work so, perhaps, I should recuse myself…but with as much objectivity as I can muster, I tell you, its placement and execution are nonsensical at best.

I wish I could give this film more praise…and maybe my expectations were too high, but while this SHOULD have been an absolute no-brainer of a success, it is anything but. As always, your mileage may vary..in other words, you may not judge the failed aspects of this film as harshly as I do. But I found them to be immovable, concrete roadblocks.

(Just watched this excellent trailer for the first time…wish I’d seen THAT movie!)

Written 10/17/2016

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