Directed by Antonio Campos.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, Timothy Simons, J. Smith-Cameron and Kim Shaw.
The story of Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s TV reporter struggling with depression and professional frustrations as she tries to advance her career.
On July 15th 1974, Christine Chubbuck – a newsreader disillusioned by the burgeoning “if it bleeds it leads” culture of news-announced live, “In keeping with the WZRB policy of presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local blood and guts, TV 30 presents what is believed to be a television first. In living colour, exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide.” Removing a revolver from her bag covered by a felt puppet of a crocodile, she shot herself in the head, ultimately dying in the hospital later that day.
Christine locks herself away in her bedroom in fits of envy and loneliness, writing self-improvement plans whilst her hippie mother Peg (a brilliant J. Smith-Cameron) smokes dope and revels in a more successful love life. At work, she yearns for stories more interesting-much to the disdain of station manager Mike Nelson (Tracy Letts) – and idly dreams of a date with hunky news anchor George (an ever charming Michael C. Hall).
The film hinges on Rebecca Hall, an actress forever almost there. Since her breakout in Christopher Nolan’s masterful The Prestige in 2006, she has consistently put in notable performances in roles unforgiving. Yet with Christine, Hall has put in a devastating performance and of such range, it begs the question how it is that she’s been left to idly wait for a role of this level for so long? A shame then that it’s largely gone unnoticed amidst the awards race. Her Christine feels real, raw, an actual person, not simply a pastiche or impression.
Director Antonio Campos shows her mental well being through the interactions of those around her. Her work mates attempt to reach out, yet as she’s told by a colleague, “you’re not always the most approachable person.” A looming incident in Boston forcing their relocation brings concern to Peg whilst compassionate camerawoman Jean (a super Maria Dizzia) offers up ice cream in hope of reaching out to her. Campos-whose previous film Simon Killer was unnerving but all too ascetic and detached-finds eloquent sensitivity and lyrical despondency in Chrstine’s abating well-being, and her interactions with those around her only add to the ultimate devastation.
Although Hall is practically in every scene, Christine works as an ensemble piece well-balanced with little character wastage. Michael C. Hall, where it would be easy to portray George as a meat-headed womaniser, plays him with a tangible depth. Whether or not his emotional insecurities are authentic or if they exist simply as a way of opening Christine up is debatable, but there is notable sadness behind his alpha-male confidence. As with Maria Dizzia, who seems torn as to her relationship with Christine. She is at once a friend, at once a protégée, at once an emotional plaything for Christine to unwittingly manipulate.
Joe Anderson’s cinematography is grainy, all burnt oranges and muddy browns whilst Scott Kuzio’s production design smartly avoids 70s imitation, only adding to the authenticity of the whole affair.
It would have been easy to make a film melodramatic and manipulative of true life, yet Christine is something else entirely. The ending is written in the stars, yet Campos and Hall have created something respectful of a tragic figure that inspires-albeit valiant-hope for the trigger not to be pulled. It’s an extraordinarily accomplished, devastating piece with a mesmeric central performance from an astounding Rebecca Hall.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★