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Picks and Pans Review: Pollock

updated 02/19/2001 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/19/2001 01:00AM

Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, Jeffrey Tambor

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Action painter Jackson Pollock (1912-56) could be a real drip, and not just because he dribbled, spattered and flung pigment onto a canvas. When he drank too much, which was often, Pollock (Harris) became a blubbering, self-pitying baby who lashed out at those near to him, including wife Lee Krasner (Harden), who sacrificed her own painting career for years to champion his. Pollock reigned as America's biggest art star in the late '40s and '50s before dying in a drunken car crash at age 44. What inner emptiness was he trying to fill up with the booze? It is both the strength and weakness of this admirably restrained biopic, which Harris also directed, that it never explicitly answers that question.

Rather Pollock attempts to get at the artist's essence by showing him in all his self-contradictory complexity. Having struggled for years before achieving a major artistic break-through with his drip paintings, Pollock was insecure about his talent but also convinced that he was the greatest artist of his time. He craved recognition but was overwhelmed when he finally found success during a brief period of semi-sobriety, causing him to put down his brushes and pick up a bottle again.

Harris is nothing short of brilliant as Pollock, nailing the painter's sinewy physicality and tortured psyche. Harden is equally excellent as Krasner, movingly depicting a woman who eventually tires of playing the dual roles of mother and lover. (R)

Bottom Line: Worthy portrait

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