'Christine' film review: Rebecca Hall's nuanced performance highlights this psychological drama
Firmly grounded by an incredible, Award Season-caliber performance from Rebecca Hall, "Christine" is an empathetic and grim slow-motion unraveling of an ethical journalist who owns an infamous place in TV history.
In short: Reporter Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) faces personal and professional stresses in her life that drive her to make a fateful decision. Michael C. Hall ("Dexter"), Maria Dizzia and Tracy Letts also star
First and foremost, "Christine" is based on the real Christine Chubbuck. She cemented her place in television history in 1974 - yet the general public probably doesn't know who she is or why she is a notable TV figure. Chubbuck was a reporter at a small market television news station - she never broke open any major scandals or changed public policy through her reporting. But in the interest of not spoiling this film, Chubbuck's place in history will be withheld from this review.
"Christine" is an absolute showcase for Rebecca Hall, who embodies the promising and principled journalist the audience first meets -- as well as the worn down and stressed woman she becomes. This film is a must-see if for no other reason than to witness a truly impressive performance.
In many ways, Chubbuck is a doomed character from the beginning of "Christine." Although she starts out very critical of herself, Chubbuck is otherwise an capable and ethical journalist. While she may be a bit aloof with her coworkers, she is at least confident in her journalistic instincts. But just below that thin veneer lies a woman with a history of "moods" (as Christine's mother puts it). Under the best of circumstances, Chubbuck is vulnerable to dark, depressive and paranoid thoughts -- and this film does its best to close the walls in on her on every front.
Hall beautifully presents a woman with relatively modest goals and dreams. She is a single woman who has an unrequited crush on a coworker. She crafts community-focused think piece news segments for a small market TV news station, but she dreams of creating meaningful news pieces in a large market. She believes in responsible journalism over sensationalism. She hopes for love and a family.
The beauty of "Christine" is its nuanced, compassionate take on Chubbuck. The personal and professional walls come closing in on her from virtually every angle. This is the erosion, on almost every front, of an already fragile psyche - from her burgeoning career to her romantic hopes to her personal health. Any one of the problems Chubbuck faces - within the small window of 10 or so days - would push any person to their psychological limits.
Yet Hall gives a rather restrained performance that relies more on nuance than simply escalating an increasingly hysterical character. Yes Hall is allowed a couple of outbursts - but it's often her lack of response to increasingly bleak plot points that is most disheartening.
For a movie that fundamentally and methodically breaks down its main character, "Christine" culminates in a third act that is almost disturbingly serene. There's an eerie and unexpected calm where the audience (reasonably) expects an already fragile Chubbuck to go completely next-level hysterical ... but it doesn't come. And that is a complete testament to Hall's strong performance: her iteration of Chubbuck is not a cartoonishly unhinged caricature -- this is a woman who responds to exponentially increasing pressure in her own way.
Final verdict: Great drama first and foremost comes from dropping a character into an impossible situation - and watching how they respond. "Christine" works because it allows the audience to genuinely understand Chubbuck's situation without passing judgement on her. If anything, this film is an indictment of the bloodthirsty media, misogynistic workplaces and mental health stigmas.
PS - For those who can't resist learning about the real Christine Chubbuck read here -- fair warning: spoilers ahead.
"Christine" opens in additional theaters nationwide Nov. 4. This biographical drama has a running time of 115 minutes and is rated R for a scene of disturbing violence and for language including some sexual references.