Actor-turned-director Ed Harris attempts to paint a true picture of art legend Jackson Pollock. 

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Flawed but fascinating, this epic tale of the first American abstract artist to achieve star status is really a love story between a man many deemed unworthy of his talent and the woman many decried for sublimating her career to advance his. Giving the performance of his career in "Pollock"— in front of the camera, that is — actor Ed Harris also helms this obvious labor of love. Harris is terribly convincing as Jackson Pollock, and the sight of him furiously hovering over a canvas won't be forgotten soon by anyone who braves this "art" film. Although Pollock's groundbreaking drip technique brought him recognition and renown, he struggled for more than two decades with self-doubt and alcohol. In fact, when we first meet Pollock, he's dead-drunk on a staircase, as his brother Sande (Robert Knot) tries to get him up to their apartment. It's 1941 and war is in the air. His sister-in-law (Julie Anna Rose) clearly despises him, and can't wait to let him know that Sande is taking his new family and his mother (Sada Thompson) to Connecticut. Pollock isn't invited. This triggers a temper tantrum that is simultaneously off-putting and mesmerizing. We quickly discover that our hero is less than likable. But things are coming together for Pollock, despite being abandoned by his family. He's in a major exhibition with Willem de Kooning (Val Kilmer), Picasso and a woman named Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden). Not knowing his work, Krasner comes to Pollock's now-empty apartment to see his art, but ends up falling in love. Soon, the talent scout for modern art, diva Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan), finds Pollock. She gives him a stipend and a one-man show in her ultrachichi gallery. With his career launched, Krasner and Pollock marry. But the honeymoon is quickly over as Pollock reverts to drinking. Krasner decides to take Pollock to the Hamptons, and that is where he stumbles upon his drip technique. In one of the best scenes in this uneven film, we watch transfixed as Harris' Pollock discovers his self-defining art. "Pollock" is a challenge for a first-time director, much less an actor, and Harris triumphs most when it comes to the performances of his cast. Starting with his own T-shirt-wearing Pollock, Harris fills this legendary artist with both raw sensuality and pain. Equally, Harden gives an Oscar-caliber portrayal as Krasner, making us believe how committed she is to Pollock's talent. We watch as she puts her own promising art career on hold and endures his drunken rages and chronic infidelities. Like two prizefighters in the bout of their lives, Krasner and Pollock never stop sparring. When she refuses to have any children because she already has one in him, women everywhere will empathize. The film also boasts gorgeous camerawork by Liza Rinzler, who captures the '50s settings as well as Pollock's massive canvases with breathtaking verve. If only the screenwriters had been more in-tune. For some reason, Barbara Turner and Susan Emshwiller shy away from probing Pollock's obvious psychological problems. But perhaps that's because the movie could not have been made without the cooperation of Krasner and Pollock's later companion, Ruth Klingman. So instead of really getting into the mind of Pollock, we're served up rehashed tortured-artist clichés and inane, unrealistic dialogue. We don't need some character telling Pollock every 10 minutes or so that he's doing the most original, vigorous art in America. Pollock's bold canvases, which thankfully are displayed often in the film, speak far more eloquently. Both Harris and Harden deserve their recent Oscar nominations for triumphing over this tentative, sketchy script.

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