Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts
Written by: Craig Shilowich
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Running Time: 1hr 59mins
WINNER – CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Best Actress (Rebecca Hall)
NOMINEE – CHICAGO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Best Feature – Gold Hugo (Antonio Campos)
NOMINEE – INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARD: Best First Screenplay (Craig Shilowich)
NOMINEE – HOUSTON FILM CRITICS SOCIETY AWARDS: Best Actress (Rebecca Hall)
NOMINEE – SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic (Rebecca Hall)
NOMINEE – LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS: Best Actress (Rebecca Hall)
“I think it’s interesting that the film doesn’t attempt to explain things. It doesn’t say, “This is what happened to her in her childhood. This is the reason why she did what she did.” The responsibility of art is to pose the questions and create the debate, so when you leave the cinema, you have a reaction that produces a conversation.” Rebecca Hall – Esquire.com
Sometimes, I just don’t understand the distribution strategies that go into some movies. The 2016 film CHRISTINE (No, not the movie about the car) was one of the best films of that year and yet was released in a meager 56 theaters across the United States and only 6 more worldwide. With very little advertising, most people didn’t even know that it existed and it went on to make only $349,643 globally. An emotional film based on a shocking true story, CHRISTINE boasts an unsettling performance by Rebecca Hall and some interesting directorial choices by filmmaker Antonio Campos. A movie that could have eventually become a major awards contender was instead buried by its studio and lost in the realm of obscurity. At a time when second-rate remakes, reboots and sequels are dominating the box office, it’s a shame for such a rich character study with something to say to go unnoticed.
In real life, journalist Christine Chubbuck’s story was a powerful one. The act she committed on live television was unexpected and shocked the nation. The last days of her life, as presented in the film CHRISTINE, are filled with mental health issues, personal disappointments and professional career struggles. She was an ambitious on-air reporter who worked in a small station in Sarasota, Florida and dreamed of advancing her career to bigger and better things. Her goal was to create what she called “issue-oriented or character-based pieces,” while the station manager, Michael Nelson, insisted on a more sensational kind of story that would bring the ratings of the news broadcast up. His attitude was, “If it bleeds, it leads,” a philosophy that Christine viewed as exploitative.
Campos and his screenwriter, Craig Shilowich, have taken a sensitive approach to the material. The movie could have been handled in a much more melodramatic and exploitative manner while taking the attitude of the news station it depicts by playing up Christine’s mental state of mind and concentrating more on her final act. Instead, it is actually more laid back. Like the stories that Christine wanted to tell, the movie focuses more on exploring the characters rather than exploiting the violence of the final moment. There is a scene where Christine rushes off to report on a fire in the middle of the night. When the report airs, it concentrates on the man who started the fire. Nelson asks, “Where was any footage of the smoldering house? At least that would have been something. You just showed us his face… …you showed a guy talking…” because all Christine got was the interview. She didn’t see the other images as important. This was a piece about the man who started the fire and whose life it affected. That’s the same attitude that the filmmakers have taken while telling this story. It’s about Christine and the people who surround her, not the event that everything leads up to and by making the film more of a character piece, everything feels more genuine. The final climactic moment is not exploited. It is more subtle and, therefore, more real and powerful.
The film also refuses to create a victim out of Christine. The goal isn’t to make the viewer sympathize or feel sorry for her. Sure, there are moments when the audience will definitely feel compassion for Christine, but then when she gets into one of her moods, she becomes very selfish in her thoughts as she becomes the center of importance to herself. She is a real person with real flaws and the film reaches to understand her actions without pitying her. It doesn’t give any answers as to why what happened happened. Realizing that only Christine could know those answers, the viewer is meant only to see her as others did, allowing us to come to our own conclusions regarding the decisions she made.
If a film was ever elevated by a single performance, this is it. Rebecca Hall is amazing as Christine in what may have been the most powerful performance of the year. Christine was a complicated woman whose emotional state ranged from loneliness and self-doubt to disappointment and anger. She was a woman whose mental health was suffering, making her day-to-day choices even more challenging. Hall presents Christine as hardworking, intelligent and talented but too mentally unstable to know how to really handle her talents while also connecting with the people around her. She hits every emotional note perfectly in a performance that shows a significant amount of patience and restraint, allowing the viewer to feel all the emotions that Christine is going through while fully understanding what those around her must have thought and felt as well.
The supporting cast is excellent. Michael C. Hall is great as George, the newscaster that Christine has a crush on. He doesn’t share Christine’s feelings but is sympathetic to her troubles and, at one point, even brings her to the support group that helps him deal with his own issues. Tracey Letts also gives a strong performance as the station manager, Michael Nelson. Hall and Letts play off of each other really well, as their characters are both in constant disagreement over what is needed to make a story important enough to raise the newscast’s ratings. But the standout supporting performance comes from J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Peg, Christine’s mom. Peg and Christine live together, and as much as Christine’s life seems to be falling apart, Peg’s is coming together. She hangs out with the neighbors and spends much of her time building a life with her new boyfriend, Mitch. The two obviously love each other very much, but the tension that comes from Christine’s jealousy towards Peg’s life away from her brings about some real tension between the two as well as being a catalyst for much of her mental instabilities and moods.
When I look back on my favorite films of 2016, movies like LA LA LAND, HELL OR HIGH WATER and MOONLIGHT, it’s easy to say that CHRISTINE belongs amongst them as one of the year’s best. It’s officially time for the movie studios to realize that independent films like this deserve a little attention and maybe they should stop hiding the best of the best in favor of the next superhero flick.
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