Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of Disturbing Violence and for Language including some Sexual References
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Written by: Craig Shilowich
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, John Cullum, Timothy Simons & Kim Shaw
On July 15, 1974, Florida news reporter Christine Chubbuck committed suicide during a live broadcast. Her death has become infamous as a result, with many urban legends regarding the actual recording’s existence. Some people say that it’s still out there, while others believe it’s been destroyed. However, this suicide is not the main focus of Antonio Campos’s third feature. Instead of potentially exploiting the grim subject matter or feeling like a by-the-numbers retelling of a notorious true story, CHRISTINE is a haunting character study. Though a long running time and slow pacing hinder the film’s full impact, this is well worth a look for those who are interested in the story and watching a phenomenal performance from Rebecca Hall.
Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a small town Florida news reporter. She interviews guests, meticulously examines current events, and specializes in human interest stories. Despite her cheery on-camera demeanor, Christine Chubbuck suffers from severe depression and is trudging through a particularly rough patch of life. When station owner Bob Anderson (John Cullum) comes to town in search of big network talent, Christine does everything that she possibly can to work towards the promotion and win the admiration of her crush, anchorman George Ryan (Michael C. Hall). However, Christine’s extreme mood is starting up again and she’s been experiencing severe stomach pain. A series of events will push Christine to make the infamous newscast that she’ll always be remembered for.
CHRISTINE works as less of a plot and more as an examination of a troubled woman pushed to the point where she feels that her hopeless life is in shambles. The film wisely doesn’t focus on a specific cause for her fate, but instead gives us many small pieces and lets the viewer put the puzzle together for themselves. Many scenes come and go, only to be briefly mentioned later or left alone entirely. These include: a hospital visit, a troubled love life, a strained relationship with her mother, mentions of past incidents (that we never fully know the backstory of) and an increasingly stressful work environment. Craig Shilowich’s script throws Chubbuck’s distressed mental breakdown through the screen straight at the audience, making for an appropriately depressing viewing.
As the titular news reporter, Rebecca Hall is stunning. Her Midwestern accent is spot on, along with a permeating stare that dares the viewer to look away during the climactic scene that you knew was coming as soon as the film began. Hall’s performance is sure to inspire an unnerving connection with viewers who have suffered (or still suffer) from Depression, while also going to the point of causing the audience to shift uncomfortably in their seats and feel like they’re on the verge of having an anxiety attack. A scene in which a stood-up Christine interrupts a loving couple’s romantic dinner to talk about possibly doing a human interest story on them is intensely awkward and cringe-inducing. Sill, you can’t look away from this fascinating woman who had so much potential and cut herself short.
The supporting cast members also deliver solid performances. Michael C. Hall is fantastic as charismatic anchor George Ryan and shares one of the more upsetting scenes with Christine late into the film. Tracy Letts is both intimidating and genuinely funny as the asshole boss, who’s working on moving the news from film to video and has also adopted the motto “If it bleeds, it leads.” Maria Dizzia is solid as on-and-off friend/colleague Jean Reed. J. Smith-Cameron is somewhat of a wild card as Christine’s stressed-out mother, who finds herself at odds with her distressed daughter’s latest mood. Finally, Timothy Simons has his moments as weatherman Steve Turner. Each of these characters seems concerned for Christine’s mental health, but they either go about helping her in horribly misguided ways or find themselves shut out by her entirely.
The film’s 70s atmosphere feels natural in that there isn’t a heavy focus on the technology of the time and the soundtrack isn’t cranked up to Scorsese levels of sensationalism. Instead, this period piece approaches its time as a convincing background for the notorious true story. A moody score further elevates the film’s uneasy atmosphere that becomes increasingly tense as it goes along. CHRISTINE’s only major problem is glacial pacing. The movie suffers from a few dull patches during the first two-thirds. Slower chunks could have been removed for a more compelling experience overall. Christine’s puppet shows at a children’s hospital serve as a tool for the viewer to see her fading hope and crumbling mental state, but detract from the moments surrounding them.
CHRISTINE is a character study of the titular newscaster who felt that she needed to take her life in a “sensationalized” report. No clear explanation is offered to (or needed by) the viewer, leaving us to put together the pieces of the puzzle for ourselves. Rebecca Hall’s performance is stunning and bound to make many viewers uncomfortable for lots of different reasons. The film’s tragic nature is pretty much guaranteed to leave you depressed and thinking about it long after it’s over. I wish that the pacing had worked a little better, because there are a handful of scenes that drag to an unnecessary degree. CHRISTINE is a dark drama about the events leading up to an infamous news report that made news on other news stations…and nothing’s really changed.