Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
Arnaud Desplechin's "Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian" is an example of a filmmaker working outside his comfort zone. And while it only works in spurts, the film is also an example of an interesting misfire.

In the film, Benicio Del Toro plays the titular figure, a Blackfoot Indian and World War II veteran suffering from a variety of psychological issues who travels to a clinic in Kansas, where he is treated by Georges Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), a progressive French doctor who is sympathetic to Jimmy's plight.

What works best for the film ends up becoming its greatest hurdle - that is, the continued stream of conversation between Jimmy and Devereux that intrigues at first before becoming a bit meandering in the film's final third.

The picture is best described as watching the process of psychoanalysis as a patient - Jimmy - uncovers the elements of his life that are causing him distress. These include, but are not limited to, guilt over a long lost love who died, the fact that his daughter has been raised by another man, frequent headaches, occasional hard drinking and blackout-like events that include blurry vision filled with white spots.

The doctors at the psychiatric center attempt to diagnose Jimmy, but to no avail. They focus more on his physical health and appear to believe he is suffering from a sort of post traumatic stress disorder. But it's Devereux who actually helps Jimmy, who is mostly reticent around others, to come out of his shell. Their conversations are closer to those between friends than your typical doctor-patient relationship. If this all sounds a little too heartwarming, it's not particularly. Desplechin takes a semi-clinical approach to the material, which works better - at least, for the film's first half.

As it moves along, the constant chatter about psychological problems begins to play like the reading of a list of grievances. What was, at first, compelling, eventually becomes a little too rote. But, as I said, while the film doesn't completely work, it has its compelling elements. It's certainly not one of Desplechin's best films - those would be the powerful "Kings and Queen" and the creepy "La Sentinelle - but it's better handled than 2000's "Esther Kahn," which just didn't work for me.

Del Toro and Amalric are great as always and the period detail is impressive without being overbearing, but "Jimmy P." doesn't quite reach its full potential.

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