Rebecca Hall gives a towering performance as the tragic, real-life Florida reporter Christine Chubbuck who infamously took her own life live on air mid-report. Antonio Campos directs Christine as a sympathetic portrait of an awkward and unstable but driven young woman set against the Nixon era of changing local news.
Half the film feels like a love letter to small-town journalism's heyday with newsreel and 35mm film footage motifs transitioning to thematic elements of sensationalism during the advent of video. Christine really focuses on how Chubbuck lived and battled through depression, mental illness, and loneliness before succumbing to the intense pressure she constantly felt. She was seen as a smart, ambitious professional yet was crippled with insecurity and doubt leading to her famous on-air suicide. Hall gives a commanding performance full of subtle nuances and gravitas incapsulating all of her insecurities and fears almost too well causing much discomfort.
Craig Shilowich's script feels conventional but deliberate and economically paced as Campos' stylish but seamless direction echoes Hall's masterful performance so well. The dead-on capture of a mid-'70s newsroom is on point and subtle without ever being distracting in its period elements including an understated soundtrack adding to the eerie mood of the film and sense of dread throughout.
The newsroom cast around Hall supports the 1974 Sarasota world so vividly in a timeless manner as (the unrelated) Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts contrast each other as influential male figues in Chubbuck's life, the smooth TV anchor she pines for and her combative station manager, both effectively. J. Smith-Cameron as Chubbuck's mother, whom she lives with, constantly teases their uneasy relationship well while bringing a different context to her many complicated relationships.
The film could easily be exploitive and distasteful but Campos and Hall make the case for Chubbuck as not only a real-life tragic figure but a wholly mysterious and compelling cinematic character full of deep emotional complexity. Her desperation and portrayal is both sensitive and troubling cementing her as a central figure in news history.
Christine is screening at Vancity Theatre in the Vancouver International Film Centre now until December 8th.
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