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(2000) (Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden) (R)

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Drama: A famous abstract painter tries coping with the various, conflicting aspects of both his personal and professional lives during the 1940s and '50s.
It's Greenwich Village, 1941 and Jackson Pollock (ED HARRIS) is an American painter who's been working under the WPA Federal Art Project and living with his brother, Sande (ROBERT KNOTT), and his family. Inspired by surrealism, Pollock has begun to adopt a free, abstract style of painting that's drawn the attention of fellow painter, Lee Krasner (MARCIA GAY HARDEN).

Months later, the two are living together and one day Pollock's friend, Reuben Kadish (MATTHEW SUSSMAN) shows up with Howard Putzel (BUD CORT), the "front man" for art collector and gallery owner, Peggy Guggenheim (AMY MADIGAN). Howard is impressed with Pollock's work and soon has his boss meet the painter. Equally impressed, she agrees to put on a one-man show for him in exchange for an amorous encounter and his agreeing to paint a mural in the entryway of her house.

Despite the support of friends such as architect Tony Smith (JOHN HEARD) and artist Willem DeKooning (VAL KILMER), Pollock's show doesn't go over very well, with potential buyers and critics such as Clement Greenberg (JEFFREY TAMBOR) not sure of what to make of his work.

Despite that and his drinking problem, Pollock's mural in Guggenheim's home is a success, and soon he and Lee move to Long Island for inspiration and an escape from the city. There, his work flourishes, although his drinking and temper put a strain on their relationship and occasionally his work. From that point on, and as the years pass, Pollock becomes involved with another women, Ruth Kligman (JENNIFER CONNELLY), while trying to deal with his relationship with Lee as well as his fame and popularity and their inevitable waning.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
The beauty of art - beyond its obvious visual aspect - is that it inspires different reactions from different viewers and, like traditional physical beauty, definitely lies in the eye of the beholder. That said, I'll admit that I'm more of a fan of traditional art - such as the works of the Renaissance masters or even Norman Rockwell - than that which is accurately described as abstract. I can, however, appreciate that there are those who enjoy such works, even if I don't believe as much talent or time goes into the latter when compared with the former.

After all, if a basketball star can dribble a paint-covered ball onto a canvas, a gorilla can finger paint, or a well-known artist can throws buckets of paint into the outflow of a jet engine and call the results art, I have some childhood drawings that could fetch millions - if only I were famous.

Some may argue, and perhaps rightly so, that abstract artists are representing the angst and chaos of the modern world through their work. Others may state - in what's probably a more accurate assessment - that such artists are troubled or tormented souls who are expressing their inner thoughts, conflicts and other emotions via their art.

That would certainly seem to be the case with Jackson Pollock, an American painter who gained prominence in the 1940s and '50s and was fueled and ultimately destroyed by various personal demons. Although there have been plenty of similar examples before and after him in the world of art and entertainment, Pollock could certainly be considered as the epitome of the troubled artist.

While nearly every art student and aficionado knows of Pollock and his work, many common folk probably don't, what with his name status progressively diminishing since appearing in Life Magazine in 1949 and eventually dying in 1956. All of that may change, however, with the release of "Pollock," a compelling look at the artist and the man.

Directed by and starring Ed Harris in the title role, the film may not be for everyone's tastes due to its slow pacing and general subject matter. It also might not ever break out of the art house circuit. Yet, it's a generally well-made and engaging film that clearly benefits from Harris' presence in front of and - for the first time - behind the camera.

As a performer, Harris ("The Third Miracle," "The Truman Show") delivers a terrific take on the artist, even going so far as to gaining a great deal of weight to represent more accurately Pollock's later years. I've always felt that he's one of the best, but least appreciated and used actors working today (although he did get an Oscar nomination for his work in "Truman" and "Apollo 13"), and although it's possible not many will see his effort here, it only proves how good he is (and earned him yet another Oscar nomination).

Behind the camera, Harris makes a solid debut. While he doesn't draw any undue attention to himself from either a negative or overly positive perspective, he certainly gets the job done in a commendable fashion and does get in some imaginative and creative shots.

With the screenplay by Barbara Turner ("Georgia") and Susan J. Emshwiller (making her feature film debut) - who've based it on Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith's book, "Jackson Pollock: An American Saga" - the film follows a relatively short span of the artist's life, focusing on his initial discovery to his growing fame and then eventual losing battle to both booze and self-doubts. Fortunately, for both it and the viewer, the film mostly avoids the momentum killing, episodic nature that often plagues most biopics and gives them a disjointed feel.

While this one certainly hops, skips and jumps its way through various aspects and points of Pollock's life - and occasionally experiences a few episodic pangs - for the most part it flows along in an agreeable enough fashion.

Beyond what he gets out of himself as an actor, Harris the director also extracts some good performances from his supporting cast. While actors such as Val Kilmer ("Red Planet," "At First Sight") and John Heard ("Snake Eyes," "My Fellow Americans") never really get the chance to do much with their historical figures - and thus turn out to be a bit more of a distraction than they should have been - there are some fabulous performances by others.

Among them is Marcia Gay Harden ("Space Cowboys," "Meet Joe Black") as Pollock's devoted, but torn wife and fellow painter, Lee Krasner. Portraying a far more sympathetic character than Harris' often surly and self-destructive one, Harden is terrific as the woman who mostly gave up her career to further that of her husband's. Amy Madigan ("Field of Dreams," "Places in the Heart") - Harris' real life wife - is all but unrecognizable as gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim, but likewise delivers a great performance. Both are simply marvelous in their roles (with Harden earning an Oscar nomination for her efforts).

Other performances, from the likes of Jeffrey Tambor ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show"), Jennifer Connolly ("Requiem For a Dream," "Waking the Dead") and Bud Cort ("Coyote Ugly," "Dogma") are good, but -- as is the case with many such films that must cover a great deal of history and people in a short period of time - don't get as much screen time as they should.

While the film might be a bit slow for some viewers and certainly isn't the sort of picture that will brighten anyone's day, it nicely introduces and explores Pollock the man and the artist. And thanks to some terrific performances and a solid debut from Harris behind the camera, the film turns out to be an interesting and engaging experience. "Pollock" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed November 27, 2000 / Posted February 23, 2001

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