“This is America, sir, any man with a pulse has enemies” may be the most emblematic of statements woven into Craig William Macneill’s “Lizzie” (written by Bryce Kass), revisiting and revising of the legend of Lizzie Borden, the axe-savvy but still-underimagined 1890s murderess.
How did those fateful moments come to pass? New Englander Chloe Sevigny worked to get a version of the unmarried woman-turned-killer Lizzie Borden on screen for nearly a decade. “When I visited the house, I learned about her history and all the different theories about the murders,” Sevigny elaborates in the “Lizzie” press notes. “I began to feel a lot of empathy for her. Yes, she was possibly a killer, but she was also a prisoner of her circumstances. The legend is that she was an outcast and a loner, which made me really feel for her as a woman.” Borden was thirty-two at the time of the notorious events, and Macneill and Kass surround Lizzie with the complications of her family and of being unmarried at her then “advanced” age. Sevigny’s substantial screen presence is surpassed by Kristen Stewart’s: these two women onscreen are vital, even spellbinding. Matched against Stewart as Bridget Sullivan, the housemaid whose presence turns Lizzie against injustice, Sevigny seethes gloriously. The eventual result is momentous, then ferocious, coming after multiple gentle moments when the camera follows the shoulders of its young women, as if waiting to drape fate upon them. Gentility, be gone. With Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare. 106m. (Ray Pride)
“Lizzie” opens Friday, September 20 at River East. Landmark Century and outlying theaters.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.