Sundance Film Festival
If “Nightcrawler” had a spiritual prequel, Antonio Campos’ “Christine” might fit the bill. This true story of 1970s news anchor Christine Chubbuck, played with masterful precision by Rebecca Hall, hinges on the maddening descent of local television into the “if it bleeds, it leads” culture. The downward spiral of Christine’s profession matches her own personal crisis as internal demons wrest influence away from her sanity.
Rebecca Hall, most likely known to audiences for bit parts in films like “Iron Man 3” or her memorable supporting turn in “The Town,” finally gets to shine like the talent Woody Allen recognized when he cast her as the lead in 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Though Christine’s notorious final on-air stunt has come to define her in the public memory, Hall’s performance finds her deep, troubled humanity and recreates it to devastating effect.
Christine tries to make a name for herself doing positive human interest stories with the verve of a true filmmaker, positioning herself against the grain of exploitative pulp. We know it’s a losing battle, and for the most part, so does she. Both the character and the audience alike are caught in a mutual death pact of dramatic irony, sensing the tragic end ahead but unable to turn away or turn the tide. Watching Christine’s unease mount in everything from an ill-fated romance with more successful co-anchor George Ryan (Michael C. Hall) to decaying relationship with the mother (J. Smith-Cameron) that still houses her provides the true motor of the film. Individual events matter less than the escalating paranoia, both real and imagined.
Director Antonio Campos resists easy sympathy for Christine, making her neither martyr, victim or antihero. She is a vividly realized person to us, but she is also someone whose narrative we experience through the moderation of a screen. As such, he often adds distance to her within the composition of a shot, photographing her through another video inside the frame. “Christine” treads this tricky line between sympathy and alienation with remarkable exactitude, just as it balances personal dissatisfaction against cultural sensationalism. A- /