In “Lee,” Kate Winslet delivers a compelling performance as Lee Miller, the model turned World War II photographer. The film, directed by Ellen Kuras, aims to encapsulate the complexities of Miller’s life but falls short, echoing a recurring pattern in Hollywood biopics. Despite its visually striking presentation, the film struggles with narrative depth, resulting in a missed opportunity to delve into the fascinating life of its subject.
A Promising Start That Fails to Deliver
The film introduces us to a younger Miller, living life recklessly in France in 1938, indulging in drinking, romancing, and photographing. It then fast-forwards to 1977, where an older Miller dismisses an interviewer’s questions, stating they’re “just pictures.” This dual timeline sets the stage for what could have been an unconventional biopic. However, the film’s four-writer screenplay comes off as distinctly mediocre, failing to capture the essence of Miller’s life.
The Complexity of Characterization
Winslet, who also serves as a producer, navigates through abrupt narrative changes to deliver powerful scenes, including a devastating realization of her suppressed work and a raw disclosure of childhood abuse. She is well-matched with Alexander Skarsgård, while Andrea Riseborough offers a dependable performance as her editor. However, other talents like Marion Cotillard are woefully underutilized, and Andy Samberg’s casting as fellow photojournalist David Scherman feels awkward at best.
Visuals Over Substance
Ellen Kuras, making her directorial debut, and cinematographer Pawel Edelman create a visually stunning film. The aesthetic differences between Miller’s post-war country home and the chilling gray battlefield are noteworthy. However, this visual flair doesn’t compensate for the film’s narrative shortcomings, a challenge often faced by cinematographers transitioning to the director’s chair.
The Pitfalls of Hollywood Biopics
“Lee” joins the ranks of Hollywood biopics that condense significant lives into feature-length films, often at the expense of character depth and narrative complexity. Despite its Oscar-worthy moments, the film is marred by its conventional approach, including an ending framed by two surprise twists that feel emotionally and narratively hollow.
While “Lee” had the potential to be a groundbreaking biopic, it ultimately serves as a cautionary tale in filmmaking. Strong performances and stunning visuals can’t mask its narrative flaws, leaving audiences with a visually striking but emotionally unsatisfying cinematic experience.