A well made film but probably not of a lot of interest to most viewers.

Jimmy P. is an unusual film for many reasons.  Although the film’s star Benicio Del Toro is a pretty hot commodity in films these days, this Oscar-winning actor decided to take a very different sort of part in this film.  In the last year, for example, he’s been in a couple HUGE Hollywood films–Thor: The Dark World and the recent mega-hit Guardians of the Galaxy.  But Jimmy P. is a much smaller sort of film–one with very modest pretenses and which is not exactly the sort of film the average viewer would enjoy.  My assumption is that he just liked the role and it offered him a good chance to act without all the special effects and eye candy of a typical film.  Regardless, it is interesting and worth a look–particularly if you are interested in the history of psychotherapy.

When the film begins, a WWII vet, Jimmy Picard (Del Toro) has come to the VA hospital because of the intense pain he’s been feeling.  However, despite many, many tests, the doctors can find nothing physically wrong and eventually one of them suggests his problems might have a psychological basis.  In a wise move, the psychologist at the hospital suggests they find a psychotherapist who has a background in anthropology so that they can address not only Jimmy’s emotional problems but see this in the context of his American Indian heritage.  In other words, perhaps there are problems specifically related to this ethnic background.  So, the hospital goes searching for such a man and they enlist the help of a French therapist, Georges Devereaux (Mathieu Amalric).  Much of the film consists of the therapy sessions between Devereaux and Jimmy and focuses on the insights that they learn and the progress he makes.

As far as the history of psychotherapy goes, this is a fascinating film.  And, since I used to be a psychotherapist and teacher (teaching psychology among other subjects), I was familiar with the analytic bent of therapy in the 1940s and wasn’t surprised at the way therapy was portrayed in the film.  Its focus on sex, repression, free association and the like were BIG back then, though today this is not at all typical of counseling sessions which are now much more problem-centered and short-term in nature.  Plus, today, most therapists believe that more than just sex is behind all our emotional problems.  This is NOT a criticism at all–just an observation and to let you know that the style of the meetings between the Jimmy and Devereaux are not at all typical of what you’d find today.  To me, this was pretty interesting–and, yes, I know for the average person this isn’t exactly exciting stuff.  What is pretty exciting, however, is the nice, gentle sort of acting you see here.  Del Toro and the rest of the cast did a very nice job and the movie is an interesting slice of life movie.  But, unfortunately, a lot of folks probably wouldn’t rush to see this sort of realistic story as there aren’t many ‘exciting’ portions to the film–just a decent little story.

Finally, Benicio Del Toro is a fine actor and he did a fine job in Jimmy P.–but, I do wonder why the filmmakers didn’t hire an actual American Indian to play this role instead of a Puerto Rican American?  After all, there probably aren’t many opportunities for members of various American tribes to act in films and this might have been a nice chance to give someone a chance to play the role intended for an American Indian.  While no one would ever think of having a white person play a black in films these days, it’s still surprising to see which actors often play Asians and American Indians in films.  I also noticed that lots of supporting parts were played in Jimmy P. by American Indians–perhaps one of them might have been cast in the lead.

Grade: B

by Martin Hafer