Review: ‘Little Fish’ (2021), starring Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell

March 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jack O’Connell and Olivia Cooke in “Little Fish” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Little Fish” (2021) 

Directed by Chad Hartigan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle from 2020 to 2022, the sci-fi drama “Little Fish” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British woman and her American husband struggle with fear and health issues during a global pandemic of the fictional disease Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA).

Culture Audience: “Little Fish” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-acted apocalyptic dramas that have romance and surprises.

Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell in “Little Fish” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Little Fish” is the type of plot-puzzle drama that appears to be straightforward in its intentions but turns out to be quite different from what was initially presented. The movie succeeds largely because of commendable acting from Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, who play a newlywed couple struggling with a health crisis when one of them becomes afflicted with the fictional disease Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA) during a global pandemic. Because the movie takes place primarily in 2022, with flashbacks to previous years, the parallels are eerily similar to the real-life COVID-19 pandemic, although “Little Fish” was written and filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic existed.

Written by Mattson Tomlin (who adapted the screenplay from Aja Gabel’s short story) and directed by Chad Hartigan, “Little Fish” is told from the point of view of a lively Brit named Emma (played by Cooke), who works as a veterinary technician in Seattle. The movie’s tone is fraught with anxiety because Emma starts to see signs that her worst fears are coming true: The two people she loves the most have become afflicted with NIA, a viral disease that causes dementia.

The movie is a series of scenes in non-chronological order, with the “present day” scenes taking place in 2022. Emma gives voiceover narration during much of the story, and there are many scenes where she is articulating her memories so that she can write them down for herself and her American husband Jude (played by O’Connell), a photographer who is slowly showing signs of having NIA. It’s an activity that she does with a heavy heart because she knows it might be a matter of time before Jude will forget who she is and everything about their relationship.

In addition, Emma’s mother, who lives in England, is also showing signs of NIA. Emma’s mother (whose name is not revealed) is never seen in the movie, but her voice is heard when Emma speaks to her on the phone or leaves a voice mail message for her. Emily Stott is the voice of Emma’s mother in the movie.

In the world of “Little Fish,” NIA does not have a vaccine or cure. And there doesn’t seem to be much knowledge about how it is spread, although people occasionally wear masks as a precaution. Because a lot of the movie takes place in flashbacks, viewers see in bits and pieces how Emma and Jude met and how their relationship evolved.

Emma and Jude met while she was sitting by herself on a deserted beach. She sees a dog nearby and asks the man walking near her if the dog is his. He says no. The way that Emma and Jude look at each other, there’s an obvious attraction. Emma is talkative, while Jude is a little bit more emotionally reserved.

Jude has a camera with him and asks if he can take her picture. She obliges, they talk, flirt a little, and they exchange numbers. There’s only one problem. Emma already has a boyfriend, but she doesn’t tell Jude that the first time that they meet.

Shortly after Jude and Emma meet each other at the beach, Emma is at a Halloween costume party. She’s dressed as Claude Bourgelat, the French doctor who was considered a pioneer of veterinary medicine in the 1700s. Emma looks bored at the party, and her boyfriend Tim (played by David Lennon), senses that she’s become emotionally distant. However, Emma insists that everything is just fine.

While at the party, Emma gets a call from Jude, who asks her to come over to his place because he’s feeling kind of lonely at his apartment. Emma doesn’t hesitate, so she ditches the Halloween party and goes to Jude’s place. Once he sees her, he immediately guesses that she’s dressed as Claude Bourgelat. It’s one of many indications of why Emma fell for Jude so quickly.

Jude and Emma then head to a nightclub, where she tells him that she has a boyfriend named Tim. When Jude asks Emma if she loves her boyfriend, she says no. Jude asks Emma why she’s with this boyfriend if she doesn’t love him. Emma tells Jude that it’s complicated. More than once Jude gets Tim’s name wrong (Jude calls him Tom), which could be a mental block or a deliberate attempt to show Emma that he’s so unconcerned about Tim that he can’t be bothered to remember Tim’s name.

While hanging out at the nightclub together, Jude and Emma’s attraction to each other continues to grow. They share a similar sense of humor, such as pointing out people in their sight and trying to guess what these people’s stories are. The movie doesn’t delve too much into Jude’s family background, but it’s implied he’s on how own, while Emma (who has a working-class northern England accent) only has her mother has her closest living relative.

During their flirtatious conversation at the nightclub, Jude asks Emma if she can kiss her. She says no because she has a boyfriend. Not long afterward, Emma says she has to leave, and then she surprises Jude by giving him a romantic kiss on the mouth.

Needless to say, Emma’s relationship with Tim doesn’t last. Jude and Emma’s romance quickly heats up, they end up moving in together, and then they get married. Emma mentions in the movie that their wedding was on October 14, 2021, which means that they were married for a year or less when Jude began showing signs of having NIA.

At first, Jude’s forgetfulness is about little things. For example, Emma and Jude have a dog named Blue. One day while riding together on a bus, Emma says it would be great if they could adopt another dog as a companion for Blue. Jude says no because they don’t have room in their apartment. They get into a minor argument about it, but Jude is firm in saying it’s not a good time for them to get a second dog.

But then, on another day not long after that argument, Jude mentions to Emma that they should think about adopting a second dog. Emma is shocked and reminds Jude that this has been an ongoing disagreement with them, with Jude being the one who was against the idea of getting a second dog. Jude tells Emma that he honestly can’t remember them disagreeing about this issue.

Emma and Jude never do get a second dog, because they have much the more pressing matter of how to deal with Jude’s disappearing memory. Jude shows other signs that his memory is slipping. He forgets where he lives and doesn’t think about looking at his driver’s license to get his home address. On another occasion, he’s very late for an important job to take photos of a wedding. And speaking of weddings, there’s a pivotal scene where Jude and Emma have very different memories of their wedding day.

While all of this is going on, Emma confides to her mother about her suspicions that Jude might have NIA. But to Emma’s horror, her mother starts to forget names and experiences too. And then, Emma gets a phone call from England and finds out how much her mother’s health is deteriorating. Emma has to decide if she should go to England to try to help her mother (who apparently has no other relatives to turn to) or stay in the U.S. to help Jude.

Emma and Jude’s closest friends are a couple named Ben Richards (played by Raúl Castillo) and Samantha (played by Soko), an alternative rock duo who are musical partners and love partners. Ben plays guitar and Samantha is the singer. Ben and Samantha knew Jude first, because Jude used to go on tour with them as the duo’s photographer.

As Jude reveals later in the story, during their touring days, Jude and Samantha got caught up in partying too much with alcohol and drugs, and they decided to “dry out” in Seattle, where Samantha’s parents live. By the time Jude met Emma, he had been clean and sober for a few years. In flashbacks, Samantha and Ben are shown to have a loving and harmonious relationship.

Unfortunately, things change when Ben’s mental state does downhill because he has NIA. At first, Ben’s forgetfulness shows up as not remembering the musical notes of his guitar strings, so Jude comes up with an idea to tattoo this information on Ben’s arms. But then, Ben’s memory loss results in a very disturbing incident that has Samantha questioning if she should continue to be in a relationship with Ben. And the dark turn in Samantha and Ben’s relationship has Emma worrying about how she and Jude need to prepare in case something similar happens to them.

Shortly after Jude began losing his memory, it’s in the news that the government is doing a clinical trial for a possible NIA vaccine. The clinical trial is open to people who show NIA symptoms. Emma immediately encourages Jude to apply for this clinical trial, but he’s reluctant, because he’s still somewhat in denial that he has NIA. How this issue is resolved is one of the turning points in the movie. There are a few scenes that also show how desperate people can become when they think there’s a chance that they or their loved ones have a chance to be cured of this terrible disease.

The heart of “Little Fish” is in the scenes that show Jude and Emma’s romance. They have a relationship that’s very realistic, such as an ease with one another in how they live as a couple, share emotional intimacy, and even how they handle disagreements. Despite their occasional conflicts, Emma and Jude are very much in love and committed to each other. And as NIA starts to take over their lives, the decisions they make are a direct result of their fear of losing each other.

The movie is titled “Little Fish” because of a scene in the movie where Jude proposes marriage to Emma. They are at a fish aquarium store when he pops the question, and she enthusiastically says yes. However, Jude tells her that he doesn’t have an engagement ring.

Emma is so happy that she doesn’t mind. She replies, “Then buy me a fish.” Later, Emma and Jude get matching tattoos of little fish on their respective right ankles to commemorate this special day. It should come as no surprise that there’s a scene in the movie where these tattoos are a way to see how much Jude remembers about his relationship with Emma.

“Little Fish” can be described as a sci-fi romantic drama, but there are parts of the movie that have the qualities of being an apocalyptic horror movie without all the bombastic “run for your lives” scenes that are usually in these types of apocalyptic movies. In “Little Fish,” the NIA horror sneaks up on people but shows up in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

In one of the flashback scenes, Emma is at her job and signs paperwork for a stray dog that is turned in by a city employee named Frank (played by Toby Hargrave), who works for the city’s animal control department. Emma is a little surprised that Frank can’t remember her name. Observant viewers will not be surprised later in the movie when another driver named Annie (played by Angela Moore) shows up and tells Emma that she’s Frank’s replacement because he stopped showing up for work. The implication is that Frank has NIA.

The horror of NIA is exemplified in real life-or-death situations. While taking a tourist-type boat ride to get their mind off of their troubles, Emma and Jude witness a woman run hysterically toward them because the woman doesn’t remember her husband and thinks he’s a stranger trying to kidnap her. The woman on the boat is so distraught that she does something desperate and tragic.

And there are also missing-person flyers that start to become more prevalent as the NIA pandemic worsens. That’s because the disease has spread at such a rate that more people forget who they are, wander off, and go missing. It’s something that Emma fears might happen to Jack, her mother, and other people she know, including herself.

Cooke and O’Connell (who are both British in real life) have the type of natural chemistry with each other that give their performances considerable authenticity. Because Jude and Emma are a very believable couple, audiences will be rooting for Jude and Emma to somehow make it through this crisis against all odds. “Little Fish” director Hartigan and film editor Josh Crockett skillfully weave the story in such a way that viewers of “Little Fish” will be engrossed in putting all the flashbacks together to find out who Jude and Emma are. What makes this movie memorable is how these perceptions compare from the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie.

IFC Films released “Little Fish” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Jungleand’ (2020), starring Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell

December 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell in “Jungleland” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Jungleland” (2020)

Directed by Max Winkler

Culture Representation: The dramatic film “Jungleland” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In order to pay off a debt, two brothers who are involved in the world of underground bare-knuckle boxing are forced to go on a road trip with an unwilling young woman, so that the brothers can bring her to a crime lord. 

Culture Audience: “Jungleland” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted stories about hard-luck individuals and the sleazy things that they do to survive, but viewers have to be willing to tolerate how this movie can sometimes be too slow-paced and unfocused for its own good.

Jessica Barden and Jack O’Connell in “Jungleland” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the dramatic film “Jungleland” (directed by Max Winkler) will be packed with a lot of action-oriented boxing scenes. Boxing is not the primary focus of this movie, which is really a road-trip film about two tight-knit American brothers coming to terms with their co-dependency on each other. Their relationship might be permanently changing as one brother tries to become more independent from the other. It just so happens that the two brothers are involved in some shady criminal activities, so there’s an added “race against time before we get killed” aspect of the story.

The two working-class brothers at the center of the story are Stanley “Stan” Kaminski (played by Charlie Hunnam) and Walter “Lion” Kaminski (played by Jack O’Connell), who spent most of their childhood as orphans growing up in various parts of America. Their deadbeat father abandoned them as children, and they spent part of their childhood raised by a single mother, who died when Stan and Lion were underage. In the movie, Lion says that he’s 25, while Stan (whose age is not mentioned) looks like he’s in his late 30s. They only have each other as family.

When this story takes place, the Kaminski brothers are living together in a run-down house in Fall River, Massachusetts. They both work at a sweatshop-styled fabric sewing factory, where their job is to do things like sew bedsheets. And they have dreams of being rich some day, which Stan constantly talks about when he fantasizes out loud to Lion about all the walk-in closets full of silk suits that he would like to have.

Stan is supposedly a dedicated follower of high fashion, but you’d never know it because he looks and acts like a scruffy rogue. That doesn’t mean he has to look “rich” (because he’s not), but Stan doesn’t even seem to care about looking like he has good hygiene. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that the brothers have been sort-of planning to open a dry-cleaning business together. Their “business plan” is literally a photo collage that looks like something a 9-year-old child would do as an art project, which is an indication of how little these brothers know about business. Keep in mind, this is a drama, not a comedy.

Because he’s the older brother, Stan takes on the “alpha male” leadership role in their relationship, while Lion is the “beta male” follower. Stan is a big talker who likes to come up with “get rich quick” schemes, while Lion just passively goes along with whatever Stan wants. However, even though Stan comes up with ideas, he’s not that smart in making any of these ideas beneficial to him and his brother. Stan’s ill-fated schemes have landed the brothers in debt to a local criminal named Pepper (played by Jonathan Majors), who is the type of thug who likes to be smooth but menacing.

Lion has raw talent as a boxer, and Stan is his coach. Lion and Stan like to growl at each other like lions as a way of getting Lion psyched up before a boxing match. It’s revealed later in the story that Stan tried to bribe a referee in the past, so he lost his license to train boxers. Stan still has dreams of Lion making it big as a boxer. Until they can make it to the big leagues, Stan has been putting Lion in underground bare-knuckles boxing matches that don’t really pay enough to get the brothers out of their dire financial situation.

After one of these matches, which ends with Lion losing by getting pummeled by a man who’s about 20 years older than Lion, the brothers find themselves accosted and essentially kidnapped by Pepper and one of Pepper’s henchman. Pepper has grown impatient with the brothers for not paying their debt. Stan and Lion both get roughed up a little until they agree to do whatever Pepper wants.

Pepper tells Stan and Lion that the only way they can erase the debt is to do two things: (1) Enter and win a boxing match called Jungleland, which has a grand prize of $100,000, and (2) Take a young woman named Sky with them on their road trip to Reno, Nevada (where Jungleland takes place), and deliver her to a pet store. Pepper gives them a business card for the store. Why a pet store? That’s explained much later in the story.

Lion is very reluctant to go along with the plan, but Pepper says, “You’ve got no choice.” Stan asks Pepper if this task of transporting Sky is some type of human trafficking. All that Pepper will tell them is that Sky is a “family friend” who “can be a handful.”

When Stan and Lion meet this mysterious Sky (played by Jessica Barden), she is very guarded and aloof. She doesn’t really want to talk about herself at first. Sky is in her early 20s (she’s able to buy alcohol at a bar later in the story), but she looks like she could be 16 or 17. Even though Sky isn’t very talkative, one thing that she does make clear to Stan and Lion is that she doesn’t want to go on this trip. As an incentive, Pepper gives them quite a bit of cash and a fairly new-looking SUV to take on the journey.

The Kaminski brothers soon find out why Pepper made Sky a part of this road trip. She’s been hiding from a crime lord named Yates, who wants Sky brought back to him in Reno, where he lives. Pepper was supposed to complete this task, but he’s now handed off that responsibility to Stan and Lion, who are both furious when they find out that they’ve been tricked into doing Pepper’s dirty work. However, there’s no turning back from the road trip. Stan is convinced that he and Lion will be killed if they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain.

Stan decides that Sky cannot be let out of their sight, so he tells Lion to keep watch over Sky when Stan can’t do it, such as while Stan is asleep or not in the same room. Also along for the ride is Stan and Lion’s whippet dog named Ash. Stan senses that Lion and Sky are immediately attracted to each other, and he orders Lion not to let Sky tempt or distract him. Easier said than done.

Throughout this road trip, which sometimes wanders off into tangents that drag the film down, Lion and Sky become more attracted to each other. She tells Lion that he doesn’t need to be bossed around by Stan, and she encourages Lion to think for himself. Sky also makes Lion see that Stan tends to do a lot of impulsive things that end up making things worse for the two brothers—not just on this road trip but as a pattern throughout the brothers’ recent lives. And during this road trip, more of Sky’s past is revealed, including a secret that explains why Yates wants her in his custody.

“Jungleland” director Winkler co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith. The screenplay could’ve used some definite improvements, because some parts of the road trip don’t make sense, according to the “race against time” aspect that is supposed to be a big part of the story. For example, if it was so urgent for Sky to be brought to Yates from Massachusetts to Nevada, they could’ve taken the trip by plane, which is faster and more convenient than driving by car.

But that would mean there would be no “Jungleland” movie, since the road trip is contrived so that all sorts of things can go wrong along the way. And they do. A big foreshadowing is when, at the beginning of the trip, Stan impulsively decides to blow a lot of the cash by splurging on the highest-priced suite available at the hotel that he chooses for himself, Lion and Sky. But when they get to the suite, they find out that there’s only one bed, because it’s meant to be a honeymoon suite. It’s an example of how Stan doesn’t plan and think things through very well.

There are also parts of the movie where it doesn’t look like Stan and Lion are really in that big of a rush to get to Reno, even though a lot of time is lost because of some unfortunate things that slow down the trip by at least three days. With that sense of urgency lost, the movie tends to wander into different directions that sometimes don’t really add anything to the story. It just seems like these unnecessary scenes are filler, because the screenwriters couldn’t think of anything better to increase the length of the movie’s total running time.

For example, Stan, Lion and Sky break into her former high school when no one else is there, for reasons that are shown in the movie but won’t be revealed in this review. But even then, that part of the story is questionable, because the trio ends up spending the night at the school, without any concern that school employees will show up in the morning and discover these three intruders. Even when a school is on hiatus (such as during the summer), there are still employees who work at the school to look after it.

And as for any intense training for this big Jungleland fight, forget about it. There are so many mishaps and shenanigans that happen to this trio on the road trip that Stan and Lion barely have time to do any training, except when they use the gym at the high school during their break-in. The Jungleand fight really takes a back seat to some messy drama involving Sky. It isn’t until the last few scenes of the movie that the Jungleland fight comes back to the forefront of the storyline.

What makes “Jungleland” worth watching, despite the flaws in the screenplay, is that Hunnam, O’Connell and Barden give very good performances as these troubled souls who have been thrown together in very tension-filled circumstances. Each of these actors shows some emotional depth to the insecurities that each characters has. Lion is questioning his identity as an individual and how he might have been living under the control of his brother for too long. Sky is running away from her past in more ways than one.

Stan likes to be in control of Lion, but deep down he’s envious of Lion because Lion has one thing that Stan doesn’t have: talent in doing something well. Stan tells Sky when they’re alone together how he feels about Lion: “That kid is better at fighting than I’ve ever been at anything in my life … He’s special, and I’ll never know what it’s like.”

In real life, Hunnam, O’Connell and Barden are British. Out of the three, Barden fares the best in mastering an American accent. (People watching this movie might be surprised to find out that she’s British in real life.) O’Connell’s American accent is also believable, but Hunnam’s natural British accent can occasionally be heard when he says some of his lines in the movie.

“Jungleland” is fairly adequate for its cinematography and production design. And the filmmakers try not to make this a completely boring and stereotypical “desperate people in debt to gangsters” movie. For example, the character of Yates (played by John Cullum) is not what a lot of viewers will expect for a crime lord. Boxing fans will probably be disappointed at how few boxing scenes there are in the movie. To use a boxing analogy, “Jungleland” doesn’t deliver a knockout punch as a compelling drama, but it brings out enough emotionally impactful jabs from the main actors to make an impression on viewers.

Paramount Pictures released “Jungleland” in U.S. cinemas on November 6, 2020, and on digital and VOD on November 10, 2020. The movie’s DVD release date is January 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Seberg,’ starring Kristen Stewart

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Seberg”

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, France and briefly in Mexico, the biographical drama “Seberg” has a racially diverse cast of white and black characters representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: The film tells the story of American actress Jean Seberg, who was the target of FBI surveillance because of her support of left-wing civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jean Seberg, Kristen Stewart (who plays Seberg in the movie) and people who like movies that have a very Hollywood version of real-life politically related events.

Jack O’Connell in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The title of the “based on true story” drama “Seberg” should have been renamed “Seberg and Some FBI Guy Who Tried to Warn Her That They’re Out to Get Her.” That’s because even though the movie is supposed to be about American actress Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart) during the first few years that she was the target of a political FBI intimidation campaign, much of the movie also focuses on the life of fictional FBI agent Jack Solomon (played by Jack O’Connell), one of the people tasked with making her life hell but he has a guilty conscience about it.

It’s one of the many disappointing choices made by the filmmakers of “Seberg,” which was directed by Benedict Andrews and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Based on the end results of how this movie was made, the filmmakers didn’t think Seberg was fascinating enough to show a more well-rounded view of her life, and instead they gave a lot of screen time to show the personal life of a fictional FBI agent.

Because Jack Solomon is a fictional character and the filmmakers want to make sure that his personal story is given almost as much weight as Seberg’s, the movie cheapens her real-life ordeal by spending so much time on backstories/subplots for other characters that were invented for this movie. There’s even a cliché “good cop/bad cop” duo that is the epitome of trite screenwriting.

Seberg was 40 years old when she died of an apparent suicide in Paris in 1979. The movie mainly depicts the years 1969 to 1971, when Seberg was one of the people targeted in the FBI’s then-secret COINTELPRO campaign, which investigated and harassed high-profile and influential people involved in left-wing politics. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the media revealed details of COINTELPRO, which was under the leadership of then-FBI director Herbert Hoover, a known right-winger. The exposé of COINTELPRO happened after Seberg’s death.

“Seberg” begins with a brief scene with the actress filming her first movie, 1957’s “Saint Joan,” which was a critical and commercial flop, but that rough start to her movie career is not really mentioned in “Seberg.” The movie also skips over her turbulent first marriage to French attorney-turned-film-director François Moreuil (they were married from 1958 to 1960) and their contentious collaboration when he directed her in the 1961 film “Time Out for Love.”

Also omitted from the story is how she met and married her second husband: aviator/novelist/left-leaning political diplomat Romain Gary, who was 24 years older than Seberg. Gary was her husband from 1962 to 1970. (She gave birth to their son, Alexandre Diego, when Gary was still married to his previous wife.) And the movie definitely doesn’t show what happened to Jean after her much-maligned “Saint Joan” film debut, when she went on to experience international stardom with her breakthrough co-starring role in the 1960 French New Wave classic “Breathless.”

Instead, “Seberg” skips over all of that to show Jean, Romain (played by Yvan Attal) and their young son Diego (played by Gabriel Sky) at their home in France, where Jean says goodbye to them as she leaves to work on a movie in Los Angeles in 1969. (During most of her career, Seberg lived in France and made French and American films, so she spent a lot of time in the U.S. for work.)

While she’s headed to Los Angeles, two FBI agents (who are invented characters for this movie) are shown eavesdropping and doing surveillance recording of an African American political radical named Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie), who is a Black Panther supporter but not an official member of the Black Panther Party. (The Hakim character is based on the real-life Raymond Hewitt, who was a member of the Black Panther Party.) One of the FBI agents is the aforementioned Jack Solomon, and the other is Carl Kowalski (played by Vince Vaughn).

It’s established fairly early on in the movie who’s the “good cop” and who’s the “bad cop.” While Jack takes a more open-minded and methodical approach to his work, Carl takes a more aggressive “witch hunt” approach. While they’re spying on Hakim, the name of Jean Seberg comes up because the FBI has noticed that she’s been donating large sums of money to left-leaning civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers and the NAACP. Carl thinks that the FBI should start spying on Seberg too, but Jack doesn’t want to rush to judgment and wants to see if there’s proof that she’s a threat to the U.S. government.

While sitting in the first-class section on the plane to Los Angeles with her agent Walt Breckman (played by Stephen Root, in another of the movie’s fictional character roles), Jean notices a commotion on the plane. It’s Hakim, who’s very angry with a flight attendant because Betty Shabazz (Malcom X’s widow) has been seated in the coach section, when Hakim says that Betty should be in the first-class section. It’s a “don’t you know who she is/show some respect” moment that catches the flustered flight-attendant off-guard.

The flight attendant tells Hakim that she can’t make the accommodation without a first-class ticket, and Hakim gets even angrier and says that he will pay for the ticket himself and he’s not going to sit down until the matter is resolved. Hakim makes it clear that he thinks the flight attendant is being racist. Jean is intrigued by Hakim’s fiery passion and tells him that he and Betty can have her and Walt’s seats. Walt looks slightly horrified.

The next thing you know, after the plane disembarks, Hakim is among a group of Black Panthers on the tarmac holding a photo op with the press.  (Remember, this was back in the 1960s, when people were allowed to be in certain areas of an airport where they can’t go now.) Jean sidles up to the group and holds up her fist in a “Black Power” gesture with them to show her solidarity.

Of course, this bold move doesn’t go unnoticed by Jack and Carl (or should we say Mutt and Jeff), who now know that Jean Seberg has definitely made it known to the public that she supports the Black Panthers, who were considered enemies of the state at the time. And in case viewers haven’t figured out that Carl is a racist, he makes it clear when he speculates why Jean wants to hang out with Hakim and the Black Panthers: “Who knows? Maybe she’s got a taste for dark meat on the bone.”

And wouldn’t you know, it isn’t long before Jean shows up in the middle of the night at the house where a married Hakim is staying to meet with other radical activists. While alone in the house, Hakim and Jean spend a little time flirting, and then they hop into bed together. The FBI has recorded it all.

Carl is infuriated and immediately wants to put Jean under intense surveillance, since he’s decided she’s now a “danger to society.” The movie implies that what really triggered the FBI witch hunt against her wasn’t the monetary donations to activists but because this famous white actress slept with a known black radical.

Carl takes this information to his superiors, and it isn’t long before the FBI approves of spying on and harassing Jean Seberg. While she’s away from her rented home to work on a film set, Jack breaks into the home and plants a bugging device on her phone. Meanwhile, as Hakim and Jean continue their hot’n’heavy affair, Hakim warns her that because he’s under FBI surveillance, she’ll become a target too.

At first, Jean doesn’t believe Hakim, but she eventually finds out the hard way how correct he was. Jean starts hanging out more with radical activists and donating money to their causes. She doesn’t believe in violence and instead chooses to support causes such as educational programs for kids and raising money to help improve low-income African American communities. Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (played by Grantham Coleman) makes a very brief appearance in the story.

Hakim is more than happy to take Jean’s donations, but he tells Jean: “You’re running in here with nails looking for a cross to die on … You’re playing with fire.” We’ll never know if the real Jean Seberg ever received this type of corny lecture, but the words are particularly cringeworthy, considering that the real Jean Seberg starred in “Saint Joan,” a movie where she played French heroine Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake.

Another thing that Hakim says to Jean that sounds straight out of Hokey Screenwriting 101 is when he tells her his philosophy on civil-rights activism: “One mind at a time. If you can change that, you can change the world.” He sounds more like Mother Teresa than Malcolm X.

There’s also a soap-opera-ish subplot where Hakim’s wife, Dorothy Jamal (played by Zazie Beetz, in a thankless role), finds out about the affair. How does she find out? Carl and Jack call her anonymously and play her a recording of Jean and Hakim having sex.

Not long after Dorothy confronts Jean about the affair (and Dorothy is a lot calmer about it than most spouses would be), Jean and Hakim end their fling. But the wheels have already been set in motion for the FBI to make Jean’s life miserable. She’s followed everywhere she goes, and she knows her house is bugged. And one day when she’s away at work, a bumbling FBI agent kills her Chihuahua because the dog won’t stop yapping when the agent is snooping around the house.

Speaking of FBI agents, the movie wastes a lot of time showing the personal lives of Jack and Carl. Jack’s wife Linette (played by Margaret Qualley) is a medical student who becomes increasingly disturbed by the signs that the FBI is harassing Jean Seberg. How does she know? Because Jack brings home FBI files that show the FBI is stalking Jean, and her leaves this paperwork indiscreetly out on the kitchen table. When Linette asks Jack about these files, he snaps at her and tells her it’s none of her business. There are also a few unnecessary scenes of Jack and Linette socializing with friends.

Meanwhile, Carl is every bit the jerk at home as he is on the job. His wife and young daughter cringe in fear when he loses his temper, which is pretty much any time they don’t do what he tells them to do. It turns out that Carl has a particular hatred of left-wingers because his adult son (who lives in San Francisco) has become a radical hippie. Did viewers really need to know all of this information for fictional characters? No.

“Seberg” then goes to even more ludicrous levels when Jack takes it upon himself to anonymously call Jean and warn her that the FBI harassment will get worse unless she disassociates herself from the civil-rights movement. Jean’s response is to yell an obscenity at him. You can’t really blame her, because she doesn’t know if the call is a prank or not, since Jack doesn’t identify himself.

The constant surveillance and harassment take a toll on Jean’s mental health and her marriage. She starts to drink heavily and she becomes very paranoid. While on a film set, she demands that a cameraman be fired because she’s convinced he’s a spy planted by the FBI. She yells at people who she thinks might be staring at her too long. And there’s one melodramatic scene where she’s tearing up a room while looking for surveillance, and she ends up in a sobbing heap on the floor.

While in Mexico filming a movie, she has an affair with a local man. And when the FBI hears about her pregnancy, they make sure to plant a story in the media that Hakim is the father. The scandal resulted in a tragedy that won’t be revealed in this review if you don’t know what happened in real life.

Stewart gives a hit-and-miss performance in this film. She’s at her best in the first half of the story, when there are glimpses of the passions that drove Jean to do what she did, knowing that she would risk her reputation and career. But when Jean goes through her downward spiral in the second half of the story, Stewart’s performance becomes a not-very-convincing caricature of a woman having a nervous breakdown. And FBI agent Jack does something at the end of the movie that defies all credibility of what someone in his position would do.

Unfortunately, because the movie skips all of Jean’s life before she got involved in radical activism, it doesn’t provide any context over what led her to this point and how she came to have these political views. Her relationship with second husband Romain is also an incomplete sketch, since viewers never see how Jean and Romain fell in love, as a basis of their marriage that’s tested during this traumatic period in their lives.

The movie’s supporting actors, costume design and production design are all very good, but those assets are wasted on an uneven story that oddly seems too concerned with making a heroic figure out of one of the FBI agents who willingly participated in this psychological torture.

Amazon Studios released “Seberg” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020. The movie originally had a very limited U.S. release in December 2019, to qualify for awards.