Kristen Stewart plays Jean Seberg, an actress from the American Mid-West who found fame as Patricia in French New Wave classic Breathless in 1960.
The film kicks off in 1968 as Seberg leaves her husband and young son behind in Paris while she travels to Hollywood to film Paint Your Wagon, co-starring Clint Eastwood. On the flight from France to the US she laments to her manager that she wants to do something more meaningful with her life than act in frivolous films. By coincidence, on board her plane is Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), a civil rights activist who has broken away from the Black Panthers. When the plane lands, under the watchful eye of FBI agents (played by Vince Vaughn and Jack O’Connell) and amidst a throng of media, Seberg draws attention to herself by raising her fist in a Black Power salute as a show of solidarity with the protestors on the tarmac.
The film follows Seberg’s descent into paranoia as a result of her public support for the civil rights movement which makes her a target for the Federal Government who use the FBI to monitor her every move in a bid to discredit the actress in order to maintain the status quo and quell the threat of Black radicals.
Is she backing civil rights for publicity to help jumpstart her career so she is taken more seriously? Is she looking for a cause? Or does she truly believe in equality? We never really find out as the film hedges it’s bets by splitting screen-time between Seberg and her increasingly troubled life, and Jack Solomon, O’Connell’s FBI G-Man, who grows uncomfortable with the direction his surveillance operation has taken.
In what should be a fascinating true story about race, power, and state surveillance, the script just isn’t there, and fails to delve below a skin deep level. Despite some classy art direction and costumes that beautifully recreate an authentic late 60s ethos, Seberg is a painfully slow and frustrating movie that ultimately takes us nowhere.
Mackie and Stewart are distracting choices, and unfortunately it’s the third release in row that has failed to connect for Stewart following the dire Charlie’s Angels and Underwater.
Is it ironic that Amazon Studios are involved in the film, with the surveillance techniques of a half century ago being at the heart of this story, as these days our attitudes have shifted somewhat, in that there are over 100 million internet enabled Alexa devices listening in to private households world-wide.
2 Stars – “Unable to Overcome Significant Shortcomings”