Despite its proficiency in inspiring emotion, Jane can at points feel like it’s a little lacking in depth. There are countless details in Goodall’s work that are glossed over in quick montages, details that one can’t help but feel would enrich the film and its context. Instead we are led in circles, as a fairly unstructured interview from Goodall ends up repeating certain sentiments without Morgen getting her to elaborate on them.
That said, in moments throughout the film, we at least get to feel what Goodall might have during her research. Morgen and co. don’t waste the excellent gift that they were granted by National Geographic: hours of archive footage shot by Goodall’s one-time husband Hugo van Lawick. It’s deployed to great effect, as a traditional talking head interview is ignored for the sake of us being immersed in the footage, Goodall’s narration piecing the clips together. Sometimes it’s used in sudden and highly emotive bursts of montage, coupled with Philip Glass’ sweeping, epic score to inspire total awe both at Goodall herself, and what she witnessed. It’s a total marvel of editing work, and might be the most enthralling thing about the film.
It’s good enough to distract from the film’s somewhat ineffectual interview and abrupt ending that doesn’t quite address any of the wider impact of Goodall’s work or the effect it’s had on her. We see glimpses of the kinds of institutional prejudice she encountered, with a montage of odious, sexist headlines about her. However, the focus remains squarely on her time with the chimps and her family, for better and worse.
A moving but flawed piece of documentary that could stand to fill in a few blanks, Jane is bolstered by a powerful score, sharp editing and an abundance of fascinating archive footage.
CAST: Jane Goodall
DIRECTOR: Brett Morgen
WRITER: Brett Morgen
SYNOPSIS: Using a trove of unseen footage, the film tells the story of Jane Goodall’s early explorations, focusing on her groundbreaking field work, her relationship with cameraman and husband Hugo van Lawick, and the chimpanzees that she studied.