When the French call something formidable, they mean tremendous, terrific, awesome. These are words that came to mind when I first encountered the work of Jessica Chastain, 30, during her performance as Salome in Al Pacino’s remarkable film of Oscar Wilde’s play. When I saw her I thought, “Al has made an amazing discovery!” In a sense, Al did discover her, although I have since learned that she is a properly trained, serious actress, a Juilliard graduate who has been practicing her craft for more than a decade.
Since that outstanding performance, I’ve watched her other outstanding performances, in The Help, The Debt and The Tree of Life. I’ve seen the dazzling roster of awards she has won from film critics’ associations and film societies, and those awards are well deserved. I knew when I saw Wilde Salomé that I had better learn the name, that I was watching an actress from whom we could expect great things in what, no doubt, will be a long, very successful future. That is saying a lot, and that is why I thought of formidable: tremendous, terrific, awesome, outstanding.