Of the many things at which documentarian Brett Morgen excels is taking a wealth of footage and distilling it into an entertaining, informative and thoroughly moving film.
Such has been the case throughout his illustrious career, especially with June 17th, 1994 — still by far the best ESPN 30 for 30 entry to date — and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.
One of our best non-fiction filmmakers strikes again with Jane, a brisk yet rich look at the titular Ms. Goodall and her time studying chimpanzees in Gombe, Africa.
Utilizing National Geographic footage that was thought lost until its 2014 unearthing, Morgen keeps the pace active with frequent edits and help from an oddly fitting Philip Glass score.
Like Robert Evans in Morgen’s Oscar-nominated Kid Stays in the Picture — a good film that nonetheless seems a little paltry after his recent string of successes — the director lets his star do the narrating, granting Jane an intimacy that alternatives would strain to achieve.
The smooth exploration of Goodall’s relationship with cameraman “intruder” turned husband Hugo van Lawick further gets viewers into the protagonist’s complex life, one that becomes even more tangled with the addition of their son Grub, but the story never quite delivers the gut-punches of Morgen’s best work.
With no extreme drama among its human players, the closest Jane comes to these emotional wallops is appropriately in the form of ape tragedy, soon after which comes a fairly abrupt ending that suggests a strict 90-minute mark the director had to hit for National Geographic’s television purposes.
Even with these shortcomings, the documentary doesn’t overstay its welcome by any means, though there’s a sense that given the freedom for a director’s cut, Morgen would deliver another top-tier film.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated but with adult content. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse