By James Hancock October 15th, 2016
I was already a massive fan of Rebecca Hall prior to seeing Christine but having now watched what I can only describe as the best performance I expect to see this year, Rebecca Hall’s stock in my estimation has absolutely soared. This is one of those rare cases where a performer completely disappears inside the persona of a tragic figure to such a degree that one has to wonder how much effort it took for Rebecca Hall to pull her head out of that dark space when her work on the film was complete. Whatever the process might have been, the final results on the screen are jaw dropping. I can’t think of another performance this year that can even be mentioned in the same sentence. Based on the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a reporter who committed suicide on live television in 1974, director Antonio Campos (Afterschool (2008), Simon Killer (2012)) has delivered an incredibly restrained, borderline eerie film that somehow pulls off the double duty of playing out like a dark comedy without appearing flippant about the topic at hand. The movie’s superb ensemble cast (Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, Timothy Simons) deserves a lot of credit for this delicate balancing act. I can’t think of one scene where they struck a false note. Although in limited release for now, the film thankfully will be going into a much wider release in the weeks to come. If you enjoy seeing dark disturbing subjects explored with nuance and sensitivity, I strongly encourage you to have a look at Christine.
The real treat of the evening was when the Film Forum announced that they had arranged a Skype call with Rebecca Hall for the Q&A after the film. Projected onto our screen from where she is currently working on a film in Boston, Hall took questions from the audience and offered some insights into how she prepared for such a complex role. With only 15 minutes of footage to work with and some knowledge of the regions where Christine Chubbuck lived and worked, Rebecca Hall managed to craft her incredible accent for the film as well as some ideas on posture, body language, etc. She described how she would get into character as her hair and makeup were applied at the beginning of each day but admitted it was not always so easy to get out of Chubbuck’s head when the day’s work was finished. It was an absolute delight listening to her discuss the project and I’ll be rooting for her all the way when awards season rolls around. So at the risk of belaboring the obvious, I’m a fan of the movie. As someone who is usually more interested in directors than in actors, I rarely find myself so enthralled with a movie based purely on a performance. In spite of knowing full well in advance how the story would end I found myself absolutely riveted from start to finish. In a strange twist of fate, Christine was not the only film about Christine Chubbuck to play at Sundance this year (the second being a documentary called Kate Plays Christine). In terms of the timeliness of these films, I can’t think of a better time for us to examine the use of sensationalism in news and media. To the film’s credit, Christine does not pretend to offer any clear conclusions about Chubbuck’s suicide nor does it sermonize about the unsavory tactics the news industry often uses to grab our attention. But the power of Rebecca Hall’s performance is such that I predict this film and the story of Christine Chubbuck will haunt the memories of those who see it for many years to come.