Ed Harris’s first film as director is an accomplished “tortured artist” biopic. It charts Pollock’s rise to become America’s foremost abstract artist between 1941 and 1950, with a (too long) coda recording his alcoholism and infidelity prior to a fatal car crash in 1955.Marcia Gay Harden contributes a noteworthy layered performance as Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner, who was willing to put her own ego on hold to massage Pollock’s and create the conditions to keep him working. Without her, he would probably have abandoned his art and died in a gutter. Harris transfixes as Pollock. He already has the benefit of looking like the man, and thoroughly immerses himself in the role.
The film has greater interest for showing Pollock creating - Harris impressively recreates Pollock’s pictures before our eyes. Pollock also places him in the context of the American art scene of the time. It’s nice to have a 1940s-set American film providing a glimpse of New York bohemian life, seemingly unaffected by the Second World War. Harris’s wife, Amy Madigan, provides a nicely sketched portrait of mildly eccentric gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim.
The best scenes are Pollock and Krasner settling in on their farm. Harris cross cuts between Pollock’s work and his discovering a communion with animals and his natural surroundings; backed by Jeff Beal’s quirky score, this sequence has lift and cinematographer Lisa Rinzler perfectly brings out the rich green of the countryside.Harris generally provides a pleasing balance of art and artist, so it’s a shame when the 1955 scenes spell out in too much detail the ending we’ve already been prepared for by Pollock’s earlier self-destructive behaviour. Anyone paying attention would have long sensed it looming over the horizon.