Rebecca Hall is one of the best actresses working today, a woman of great versatility and command of the screen. Like any great performer she makes what she does look easy, unfortunately she hasn’t received the attention or acclaim she deserves—until now. Christine gives her an extraordinarily juicy role and she makes the most of it. What’s more, her efforts are supported by a flawless production that re-creates a recognizable time and place: a small television news station in the 1970s.
It would be easy to mock the conventions of this quaint Sarasota TV operation, but director Antonio Campos and first-time screenwriter Craig Shilowich resist the temptation. What they do instead is make it so tangibly real—right down to the editing of Super 8mm film to run on the newscast—that the characters in the foreground stand on a solid foundation.
Hall plays news reporter Christine Chubbuck, a troubled woman who has moved to Florida from Boston after a bad experience there. We don’t know the details and don’t need to: we can easily see that she lives a life of frustration and thwarted dreams. She’s intelligent and even likable at times but we can only imagine what’s going on inside her head. Coworkers reach out to her in friendship and she tends to push them away, preferring to act out little morality plays for a group of special-therapy children using hand puppets.
If you remember the real-life story of Christine Chubbuck, you know where this is leading, and if you don’t you sense there is a dark cloud forming overhead that’s bound to burst. How Hall makes this prickly character both sympathetic and empathetic, in spite of her problems, is a triumph of the actor’s art.
She’s surrounded by equally skillful players including Michael C. Hall, as the local anchorman, Tracy Letts, as her demanding but patient boss, Maria Dizzia as her colleague and cameraperson, J. Smith-Cameron, as her mother, Timothy Simons, as the station’s weatherman, and John Cullum, as the fat cat who owns the Sarasota outlet among his other business ventures.
Christine is a portrait of a broken person, a lost soul who can’t make sense of her own life let alone the world around her. The film doesn’t pretend to offer answers or solutions, nor is it a cautionary tale: it is a straightforward dramatization of this unfortunate woman’s life and it is spine-tinglingly good.