(director/writer: Thomas M. Wright; screenwriters: bio by Eric Jensen on the life of Adam Cullen; cinematographer: Stefan Duscio/Germain McMicking; editor: Luca Cappelli; music: Evelyn Ida Morris; cast: Daniel Henshall Adam Cullen), Toby Wallace (Erik Jensen), Gillian Jones (Ruth Marr), Geneviève Lemon (Carmel Cullen, mother), Max Cullen (Kevin Cullen); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Virginia Kay, Liz Kearney, Thomas Wright, Jamie Houge; Arenamedia/Dark Star Pictures; 2018-Australia)
“This tumultuous biopic is just as much about the journalist Jensen as it is about the great artist Cullen.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Eric Jensen (Toby Wallace) is the journalist and editor for the Saturday Paper, who obsesses reporting on the maddening life of the Aussie artist Adam Cullen (Daniel Henshall, giving a great performance), as he writes his unconventional life story. Adam is the controversial Archibald-winning painter, who says and does whatever pleases him but could never enjoy his success without trying to bring it down in flames. The self-destructive painter, a so-called tortured-soul genius, found that success brought him virtually no happiness; no peace of mind; no true direction or purpose. Jensen spent 4 years interviewing him, and came up with this disagreeable look at such hard to like gut with so much talent.
Adam was a polarizing figure as an accomplished artist when Jensen was just nineteen and picked by the raging artist himself to write his biography. The tumultuous biopic is just as much about the journalist Jensen as it is about the great artist Cullen. The artist hooked his biographer with the lie the book was being advanced by a big publishing house, when it was not. To get to the heart of Adam’s character, the neurotic writer must cut through all the crap around the artist, from his bullying, arrogance and mental illness problems.
It’s built around shocking the senses with scenes that are subversive, and gets over like a work of art hitting you over the head with its guileless character not giving a damn what you think.
The Australian artist died at 46 in 2012, who became well-known in his home country for his uncompromising paintings but was not so well known internationally. He looked and acted like a punk or thug, and had a penchant for painting dangerous looking men with swastika tattoos–need I say more about his taste and likability!
We come away from the film learning precious little about the artist, who remains a puzzling figure, except it’s clear he was a difficult man to deal with. From the young journalist, the opinion he has of the bad boy, is that he might be more shallow that he thinks.
Though not familiar with the artist prior to seeing the film, I was astonished how unhinged Cullen was and unafraid to play games in the dark. I found the following two recent films on art I thought highly of, Leigh’s 2014 study of Turner and Ed Harris’s turn as director and star of the Pollock film. in comparison easier to take in and compliment, but this more subversive one had a sustained madness to it that made me wince and think it went deeper inside this artist’s guts than those other pics.
REVIEWED ON 11/14/2020 GRADE: A-