Entertainment

True-life story of ‘Christine’ makes for a gripping film

Rebecca Hall as Christine in a scene from the movie "Christine" directed by Antonio Campos.
Rebecca Hall as Christine in a scene from the movie "Christine" directed by Antonio Campos. TNS

What It's About: Meticulously crafted and centered with a never-better performance by Rebecca Hall, "Christine" unfolds the tragic true-life story of a young newscaster.

In 1974, the smart and ambitious Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall), 29, worked at a middling ABC-affiliate news station in Sarasota, Fla. She wanted to make a name for herself with compelling news pieces, but pressured by ratings, station manager Michael (Tracy Letts) wanted sensationalism, preaching "If it bleeds, it leads."

When the station owner arrives to poach the staff for his new station in Baltimore — she is desperate for such an opportunity. The staff steps up their game, dazzled by an opportunity to move to a major market.

But Christine is her own worst enemy. Strident and awkward, her erratic behavior was cause for alarm, but no one suspected that she would attempt suicide on air July 15. She shot herself with a revolver and died 14 hours later.

Director Antonio Campos' diligence tells this sad story in a gripping way, steeping the film in the workplace climate and news events of the day. Watergate coverage is all over the network, and Chubbuck is covering the annual strawberry festival.

Performances: In one of the great female performances of the year, Rebecca Hall ("The Gift," "The Town") projects Chubbuck's drive to succeed, the passion about her job, and the anguish that pushed her over the edge.

She delivers a range of emotions, mostly shown on her face without a word, as the personal setbacks and professional disappointments pile up.

She carries herself as one big bundle of tension, showing the difficulties she had to connect, and the struggles of women in broadcast news at that time.

Her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), also her roommate, was concerned about her daughter's growing depression, and refers to Boston as a place things didn't go so well.

Her co-workers are sympathetic, and try to help. Jean (Mario Dazzio), a cameraman, is a loyal pal, but she can't always penetrate the prickly shell. The kindness and subtleties of Dazzia ("Orange is the New Black") will break your heart in a couple scenes.

Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") is terrific as George, the hot-shot anchor who attempts to connect, but not in the way Chubbuck wants, as she had a crush on him.

As the blustery boss, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts ("Homeland") gives another one of his lived-in performances. He perfectly nails the tough-talking, exasperated manager trying to herd the cats who work for him.

The supporting cast is first rate, including Timothy Simons ("Veep") as the weathercaster and Kim Shaw as the sportscaster Andrea Kirby.

What Works: Rebecca Hall's complex, masterful portrait tells us who Christine was, aided by Craig Shilowich's compassionate and comprehensive screenplay.

Shilowich ("Frozen River") has a keen sense of the adversity women can face in life. Suicide is a very tough topic to tackle, and if you know the story, you know it's not a happy ending.

Yet, the film tells the story with such conviction that you can't turn away.

What Doesn't Work: I wanted details about what happened in Boston, and I didn't get them.

But everything else was spot-on, allowing us to see who the woman was behind the headlines.

“Christine”

1/2

Director: Antonio Campos

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, Timothy Simons, John Cullum and J. Smith- Cameron.

Rated: R for a scene of disturbing violence and language including some sexual references.

Length: 2:00

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