Sunday, January 29, 2012

CineCritical Spotlight: Jessica Chastain

2011 was the year of Jessica Chastain. The thirty year old actress appeared in five films released in 2011, and two more (Al Pacino's Wilde Salome and Ami Canaan Mann's Texas Killing Fields) that screened at the 68th Venice Film Festival in September. Prior to 2011, Chastain had two film credits to her name and single episode appearances on a small handful of television series. CineCritical fondly remembers first seeing Chastain in an episode of Veronica Mars (The Girl Next Door) in 2004.

Jessica Chastain was a relative unknown when Terrence Malick cast her in The Tree of Life. It is an experimental art house film and Chastain is an enigmatic beauty. She stars as Mrs. O'Brien, the young wife of Brad Pitt's Mr. O'Brien. The story of the young couple raising their family in the 1960s is juxtaposed with the origin of the universe. The film is frustratingly beautiful at times and uses its fragmented non-linear narrative to great effect. Chastain's star exploded after The Tree of Life won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Read my review of the film here.

Next came Chastain's performance in Tate Taylor's adaptation of The Help, nominated for four Academy Awards. The film has its share of supporters and detractors. The film is somewhat whitewashed, but the actresses in the film do a fantastic job. Viola Davis is brilliant as Abileen, as is Octavia Spencer as Minny. Chastain is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Celia Foote. This is the performance that made me fall in love with Jessica Chastain, but I wholeheartedly believe that she gave a more award-worthy performance in The Tree of Life.

Read Siobhan's take on the film here.

Following the success of The Help, Chastain was back in theatres three weeks later with The Debt, an American remake of a 2007 Israeli film. I was not a big fan of John Madden's film. I felt that the story lacked cohesion. It is the story of three Mossad agents (Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas) in 1965 who are tracking a Nazi war criminal and the repercussions on their lives 40 years later. Helen Mirren, CiarĂ¡n Hinds and Tom Wilkinson star as the Mossad agents in 1997. Chastain is superb, but the film is lacklustre.

Read my review of the film here.

Take Shelter is on my list of films to see. The film stars Michael Shannon as a father who must decide whether to shelter his family from an approaching storm of from himself. Jessica Chastain stars as his wife. The film first premiered at Sundance in early 2011, and it went on to win awards at Cannes and the Deauville American Film Festival before screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Lastly, Jessica Chastain starred alongside Ralph Fiennes in Fiennes' directorial debut Coriolanus. Chastain is given precious little to do as Virgilia, Caius Martius Coriolanus' (Fiennes) wife. She certainly looks the part, but I was a little disappointed that Chastain's role was so minimal. It is a great film, but beware of Shakespearean dialogue!

Read my review of the film here.

Chastain is not favoured to win Best Supporting Actress this year - Ocatvia Spencer is - and she may be the weakest nominee. But if Chastain takes votes away from Spencer, the category is up for grabs. And there is no Shailene Woodley!

Look for more Jessica Chastain in at least two films in 2012: Wettest County alongside Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy, and Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. She is also rumoured to be playing Princess Diana in a film entitled Caught in Flight.

Check out another CineCritical Spotlight coming soon on Jessica Chastain's 2011 male counterpart!

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