By Clarisse Tenreiro

Jessica Chastain is one of the most critically acclaimed actresses in this day and age. While it took some time for the big screen to get hold of her immense talent, she experienced a rapid ascend to fame and gained wide recognition only three years after her film debut as a teenage orphan in the American drama Jolene (2008). The year 2011 was a transformative turn in her career due to her incredible performances in six different feature films. She has since consistently continued to amaze audiences throughout the world with her powerful portrayals of women facing all sorts of obstacles. 

As a result of being an actress who values extensive research as preparation for the part, one clearly sees the depth with which she explores her characters and thoroughly metamorphoses into them. Chastain is known for choosing intensely demanding roles and has thus carefully constructed a filmography of high quality, from which most movies, if not all, are definitely worth the watch. While possessing an unbounded talent in being versatile with her roles, lending her face to completely different types of characters, she makes sure never to miss the opportunity of representing strong bold women, without ever disregarding their flaws. As an outspoken advocate against gender discrimination in the film industry, she has and continues to considerably contribute towards a more active portrayal of women, especially in positions of power as these are still often simply accredited to male characters.

Jessica Chastain is an incredibly gifted actress who’s energy draws you closer to the screen as she unveils the various layers of her characters. Beautifully raw, she enchants the screen with emotional power and never ceases to impress. Whatever era, environment or background she might be merging into, she does so effortlessly well, leaving a long-lasting print on the audience upon the unfolding of the credits, time after time. As a praise to her outstanding career, which I’m convinced will continue to be filled with mind-blowing performances, I hereby leave you with a list of Jessica Chastain’s 10 best performances. 

10. Interstellar (2014)

Christopher Nolan’s science-fiction drama is an impressive movie that challenges our perception of time and space through an intricately well-structured storyline and outstanding use of visual effects. With Matthew McConaughey as the leading protagonist Cooper, we are mostly led throughout a narrative involving a team of astronauts venturing through a wormhole with the hopes of finding a solution to save humanity from annihilation. However, a crucial plot-line that infuses the film with emotional depth revolves around the relationship between a father and a daughter, separated by this time-stealing mission. Although only portraying the grown-up version of Cooper’s daughter, Jessica Chastain does an incredible job at delivering the underlying psychological conflicts of the story and reminding us of the preciousness of life and the little time it has to offer. In the end, she becomes a much more important character than one might think at first glance, as it is her interpretation of Murph that balances out the visual sci-fi spectacle with the human aspect needed to give this movie its full meaning. 

9. The Debt (2010)

The Debt (2010) is a great espionage thriller. It involves three Mossad agents who in 1965 are given the mission of capturing Dieter Vogel, a Nazi war criminal known for medically experimenting on Jews during the Holocaust. As the narrative’s present is set in 1997, we are introduced to 6 different actors, each playing the older or younger version of the three characters. While it is the amazing Helen Mirren who plays the role of female agent Rachel in Israel’s present timeframe, Jessica Chastain coherently depicts her younger self and the violent venture set in Berlin. Building on suspense and adrenaline, this drama promises to deliver intelligent twists, carried out through a set of well-acted and smartly written steps. Chastain is strong as usual and explores her character’s multiple facets in detail, attributing sturdiness and defencelessness  equally. Not to mention her choreographic skills, seeing that apart from taking German lessons  Chastain also trained in Krav Maga.

8. A Most Violent Year (2014)

A Most Violent Year (2014) follows the story of Abel Morales, an honest businessman trying to run his heating-oil company against the backdrop of 1980’s crime-induced and violence-driven New York City. Jessica Chastain comes into play as the owner’s wife and delivers a strong performance worth looking out for. With a persuasive Brooklyn accent, she fuels her character with a rounded personality as she lovingly supports her husband while simultaneously pushing him to be bolder against the perils his business is facing. While her screen-time is considerably less than the main character in the story, she nevertheless incorporates her role to the fullest, expressing emotional versatility throughout it all and thus giving it value from start to finish. 

7. Molly’s Game (2017)

Molly’s Game (2017) is one of Chastain’s most recent films. In it, she stars as Molly Bloom who becomes target of an FBI investigation after building a business empire of illegal high-stake poker. The story follows her attempt at getting a lawyer to defend her case while simultaneously revealing her past as an Olympic skier and her ascension to the business that lead her into her present situation. Based on a true story, it is a compelling account of a woman making her way to the top in a male-dominated industry. It is therefore not surprising that this captivated Chastain’s attention, as the act of portraying women who manage to rise above the system constructed to downgrade them has knowingly become her specialty, after all. With her skilled and detail-oriented performance, she grasps the audience throughout the often voice-overed narrative, embodying her multi-layered character with grandiose boldness from head to toe, from start to finish. 

6. Take Shelter (2011)

This psychological drama does an excellent job at portraying the extent to which anxiety and mental illness can affect an individual and everything he’s connected to. Set in the countryside of Ohio, it follows the psychological downfall of a seemingly ordinary family man (Michael Shannon) who begins to have apocalyptic hallucinations. He soon convinces himself he must build a shelter for an upcoming storm and begins to lose perception of what is real and what is not. His wife Samantha, portrayed by the one and only Jessica Chastain, is the one who keeps the family together in the mids of her husband’s crisis. Courageous and strong, she stands tall and sees the light at the end of the tunnel when all seems lost. While her husband’s sanity drifts away, creating obstacles in their marriage, she manages to keep her feet on the ground. Chastain demonstrates in detail the psychological journey her character goes through, not only by means of her obvious talent but also of the great dynamic between herself and Michael Shannon.

5. Miss Julie (2014)

Based on a play of the same name, Miss Julie (2014) is a story between three characters and three characters only, set in Ireland in the year 1890. It follows the events of a Midsummer night in which Miss Julie, the landlord’s daughter, attempts to seduce her father’s servant John who is engaged to the cook Katherine. Things become dark and agonising as class and power overlap, turning initial stability into complete chaos. As there’s little diversity in setting or action and the focus is put on the characters’ long monologues and conversations, it is a movie whose result ultimately depends on the acting performances it entails. Along with her costars, Jessica Chastain manages to give it all and delivers one of her most intense performances on screen. She grabs the role of Miss Julie and pours her energy over it, fuelling it with tempestuous emotions that become rawly tangible along the way. 

4. The Tree of Life (2011)

Terrence Malick’s arthouse masterpiece sees the beauty and delicacy of Jessica Chastain encapsulated in the role of a loving mother, caring for her children in a 1960’s middle-class neighbourhood in Texas. While one often sees the strength of an acting performance in the energy and vitality of a character and its compelling and engaging dialogue, Chastain and her character do it the opposite way in this beautifully contemplative movie. Here she is quiet, calm, serene. It is less about words and more about her silent expressions, her subtle movements and the emotional load found in the depths of her eyes. Through the absence of stirring action and long conversations, she expresses much more than what hundreds of pages could tell and gives power and  elegance to what could otherwise simply be seen as a fragile and hesitant mother.  

3. The Help (2011)

In the year 2011, Jessica Chastain finally grasped the world’s attention. Although entitled to a secondary role, her outstanding portrayal of a good-natured socialite in this critically acclaimed drama pulled her out of the crowd and into the spotlight without further ado. Set in 1960’s United States, The Help (2011) tells the story of a white journalist who attempts to write a book from the perspective of black maids in order to expose and criticise the racism and class division present in her hometown Mississippi. Chastain jumps into the narrative with the role of Celia, a naive newlywed socialite who stands out from the other judgemental and racist women through her warm-hearted and sympathetic approach towards the segregated domestics. With her quirky  attitude and Marilyn Monroe-looking appearance, she steals the show on several occasions and delivers a flawless performance I would have surely wished to seen a little longer. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, this role helped her find the path to the many excellent stories that were still waiting to be told with the help of a talent like herself. 

2. Miss Sloane (2016)

There is no doubt that the character of Elizabeth Sloane fits Jessica Chastain like a glove. To the click-clacking sound of her high heels, we see a woman that will do anything in her power to win. With her perfectly-ironed dress and red lipstick, the mesmerising redhead stays in focus throughout the entirety of the movie, fascinating her audience with her fast-talking dialogue and authoritarian determination. The political thriller Miss Sloane (2016) gives Chastain this powerful protagonist’s role and with it the opportunity for her to reveal, once more, the incredible talent she will never run out of. Sloane is a ruthless lobbyist, utterly addicted to winning every argument or case in her professional career, leaving out the existence of any kind of normal personal life. While such a role is recurrently limited to male characters, it is refreshing to finally see a women in politics at the very centre of the stage. Chastain does an amazing job concretising this.

1.Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Chastain’s role in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) might be one of her top performances. While her character is in itself a strong female protagonist, Chastain embodies the role with such force and confidence that it is ultimately her acting that brings to life the admirable characteristics and personality of her character, in a way that few others could have ever done. Throughout a narrative that depicts the seemingly endless manhunt for the infamous terrorist Osama bin Laden after al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks on the twin towers, the movie introduces this exceptional actress as Maya, a perseverant CIA analyst working on the case. In between the walls of a man’s world, she sticks to her convictions and moves forth self-assuredly, using her intelligence and reasoning in opposition to the torturous means utilised by others. While the ending is known to all, Zero Dark Thirty is a compelling story to follow thanks to the fascinating performance of Jessica Chastain, for which she has deservingly earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. 

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