A misguided effort lacking in focus and interest
By Brad Brevet
Set during the end of the second World War, the film is based on George Devereux's non-fiction book "Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian" and we are introduced to Jimmy Picard (Benicio Del Toro), a Native American soldier who suffered a head trauma in the war who is now troubled by an inexplicable illness that's causing painful headaches and temporary blindness. Taken to a military hospital by his sister (Misty Upham), he eventually falls under the care of Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), who is given one hour a day to treat him and we are "treated" to snippets of what feels like every single one of those hours.
Del Toro plays Jimmy as if he is slow-witted, but I never got the impression we were to think of him this way. He delivers his words in short, staccato bursts as if he is eight years old and it's a maddening exercise in patience considering so much of the film is dedicated to listening to Jimmy and Georges' conversations.
When the two aren't talking the scene typically shifts to Georges' quarters where Madeleine (Gina McKee), a married friend of his, arrives and spends a considerable amount of time with him. You'd think her character would have some major bearing on the story, but for all I could tell she was there as a distraction to break up the film so it wasn't one therapy session after another. Instead it becomes one therapy session after another, broken up only by moments between Georges and Madeleine either talking about the therapy sessions or random nonsense that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the film we're watching.
Cannes Review of Jimmy P
Arnaud Desplechin stumbles with his first film in the English language
By Donald Clarke
French viewers can, at least, relax in the knowledge that one of their own is bouncing national stereotypes into the red. Benicio de Toro may have “some Indigenous American ancestry,” but he still looks and sounds like a Puerto Rican. It’s not quite like the old days when Yul Brynner or Anthony Quinn were asked to play any required nationality. It would, however, have been nice to cast a Native American actor in a Native American role.
This is not to suggest that any such minor tweaks would save the film. Amalric raves. Del Toro mumbles. Gena McKee turns up to stand around awkwardly in a tweed jacket. At the end of it all, we get no closer to understanding why these interactions should be of any interest to a modern audience. We learn nothing new about Native American culture. We learn nothing new about psychotherapy. We do learn that Desplechin would be best advised to never direct in English again, but that lesson hardly justifies two hours of unremitting tedium.
By Kevin Jagernauth
The film is based on a 1951 study by the French ethnopsychiatrist Georges Devereux
By Sharon Waxman
[T]he movie suffers from being too light and too heavy at the same time: the stakes are rather lightweight (especially given the history of native Americans) and the treatment of those stakes ponderous.
This is why you have Native actors play Native roles. They'll avoid stereotypes in their performance, or at least argue for avoiding stereotypes. They won't simply emulate what they've seen in other movies.
For more on the subject, see My Interview with Misty Upham and Del Toro to Play Native Veteran.