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Artful Demons

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*Pollock (R)
Sony Pictures Classics

To expect a film biopic to be as spectacular, mysterious or moving as a Jackson Pollock abstract canvas is a little unrealistic. The medium must, after all, tell a story with dialogue and action. Here, director and lead actor Ed Harris tells a story he obviously feels passionately about, and does it respectfully, in classic linear fashion, allowing the acting and the importance of the central figure to carry the film. The results are not completely successful, but Pollock is a film well worth seeing, first for Harris' portrayal of the mercurial painter, but foremost for Marcia Gay Harden's Academy Award-winning performance as Lee Krasner, Pollock's tough, devoted wife.

When Krasner enters Pollock's life, he is holed up in a 1941 Greenwich Village dive where he alternately paints brilliantly and goes on alcoholic benders. Harden, so convincing in her method of acting, barges in and takes over, continually insisting to Pollock that he is a great painter and that his fame is sure to come. Krasner, as played by Harden, loves Pollock the artist and protects Pollock, the deeply flawed man.

What works in Harden's performance is her resolute knowledge of the interior workings of Krasner. She never melts into wifely mode, but firmly manages Pollock's life and career, ushering him toward his best work. Years later, when boozing has driven him over the edge, she doesn't shrink but rages against his demons while still protecting her own integrity. Both the character and the actress are imbued with a depth rarely seen on film.

Harris' Pollock is a physical wonder as he hunches over his massive canvases, dancing light-footedly up and down, his face a mix of wonder and concentration. And his drunken rages are completely convincing. And though we are never given any particular insight into Pollock's demons, Harris plays them with a delicate mix of fear and rage, an intense wish for privacy, a need for acceptance, moments of intense insecurity and other moments of sheer intuitive escape.

Pollock moves slowly at times, and it is frustrating to walk away from the thoughtless car wreck that ended the artist's life, along with that of an innocent woman passenger, without feeling a little disgusted with the guy. But a look back a few hours later affirms that the film is less about the man, more about his art and the woman whose dignity extended well beyond his untimely death.

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