I’ve had a day to really process Jackie (2016) a film I have really been looking forward to. If only to gauge into more into the history of American history, it’s a glimpse into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy around the events of her husband John F. Kennedy, which really need little explaining really. It’s the first time that any First Lady has really been given the feature-length treatment which makes for another strong reason to check out this bold film that could open up for further first lady biopic’s.
Anyways enough of the introductions to first look at Natalie Portman‘s performance which really is her best, I know the trailer gave me a glimpse of what was to be seen. It’s a role that she has completely lost herself to, becoming absorbed into a public figure who has reached legendary status, short of what her husband reached. We meet her weeks what’s thought to be a few weeks after the state funeral for President Kennedy, giving her account of events to a journalist, believed to Theodore H. White of LIFE magazine played by Billy Crudup whose faced with the most challenging interview of his career. Jackie from the outset tells him that it’s her story, which she will personally edit before being published. Throughout the film we cut back to the interview for her to tell him not to write this or that. It’s too private to be released to the public, something that has not stopped the public’s imagination and countless biographies that have since pieced together her life and events around J.F.K’s assassination. Looking at Portman which she is not for the course of the film, she is so poised that you accept her as Jackie.
Where do I start with these events that slowly move forward from the assassination through to the funeral. The process of grieving on-screen allows us to get inside the still raw and fragmented memories that are still fresh for Jackie. An approach which I had prepared myself for. These memories make up a film that feels raw and very personal, whilst also putting in the necessary fact such as the rushed inauguration of J.B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) which can only reminded and reinforce the fact she is no longer the first lady. Everything is happening so fast for her, whilst for us its slowed down.
I have to mention the soundtrack by Mica Levi who last provided the disturbing atmosphere to Under the Skin (2013). Here the music is more traditional with an unnerving edge that gets again under the skin of the audience. It stops you from getting to comfortable as we see a woman’s life change over the space of a few days, her position, status and situation all changed.
Portman allows us into raw and vulnerable of times in Jacqueline Kennedy’s life as we see her having to deal with the change in not only her position to having to deal with the funeral arrangements, those suitable for a man of J.F.Ks standing, wanting the same level of ceremony that’s attached to Abraham Lincoln. There is a bit of history within the film in this respect as she starts to see his own position in American history, the 3rd President to be assassinated and unique, becoming the 4th and last to date. The unfolding events in connection to Lee Harvey Oswald who was later killed. All this history packed into this heavy film.
We see touch upon a single parent having to explain to the children of their fathers death, not an easy task for any spouse that has been left behind. However we hardly see the kids, its all about her and her grief, the kids are just too young to really understand. In concentrating on the wife we see a side of the marriage and Presidency that was unknown to me – Camelot the musical, having compared him to the a few times, we hear the final track as recorded by Richard Burton blasting through the White house as she begins to really process and grieve for her husband. A montage of that time which could have been hours, a night or a few days, preparing to leave and for the funeral, still playing the role of First Lady it will take one last appearance to bring her role to a close. I’m amazed how Portman could turn on the tears with and well the eyes up, she must have been tapping into personal events to deliver the emotion on-screen.
Away from her we have reality in the White House carrying on, L.B. Johnson wanting to move in and set up in the Oval office. Whilst Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) is left with the task of looking after Jackie who needs to be handled delicately, we see him on the defensive against the new administration as he tries to grieve for his brother which takes the form of swearing. He’s guiding her through, protecting her from potential danger and reality as it happens around her.
So coming to the film as a practical novice as far as Jackie Kennedy is concerned I have gained an insight into the events which combine recreations of events, if only in part to build up an image of who she was during that tragic time in her life. What caught me was the recreation of the White House tour, putting herself on display for the world, opening up the house to the nation. Staying true as possible to the original piece. From director Pablo Larraín who created the authentic (as possible) look for the recreation comes from a much effect used for No (2012) which converted footage from an old film camera – producing a very authentic polarising and washed out SD image.
Obviously this film has been held back for the good ol’ Oscar bait, it’s not a film you’ll remember for the events depicted within, if anything its that one performance which makes it worth watch. Also one of John Hurt’s last performances, you can see a lifetime of work is on display in his role as the unnamed priest, you can see a life of experience in his face, the Irish accent is forgivable and almost natural. bring with him his natural grandeur and that little nod that raises the film further up. I hope that Portman wins best Actress, although she has stiff competition from France with Isabelle Huppert who I would like to see in Elle (2016)
After being stuck in what seemed like the 1950’s for my film viewing recently, I needed to be pulled almost bang up-to-date with something that I had been finding the right time to watch, which this time was Argo (2012) this years Oscar winning film, after being snubbed in all the major categories bar the really important one – best picture, which is won. Somehow after getting up from it, I would have gone for Life of Pi (2012). I can see how it won however, the old Hollywood loving itself number which they pull out every-so-often. And it allowed actor/director Ben Affleck to still pick up one of those trophies. I could spend the review trying to argue why it shouldn’t have won, in place of Ang Lee‘s masterpiece of storytelling, but that argument has probably been had by now.
Instead I’ll focus on why it won beyond the point I just made which is blinding the obvious as C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) is given the job of providing the best worst option of rescuing 6 hostages from Iran in the 1980 when Iranian and American relations were at their worst when America was offering asylum to one of their leaders. Add to that the coup they helped to pull off with the U.K. years before didn’t really help matters.
The idea that Mendez brings to the table is as crazy as it gets, to set up a fake movie, complete with crew as a cover-up in order to get the 6 U.S workers out of the country to safety. At first the idea is seen as a joke, the only joke that is serious enough to be given the green light. Allowing Mendez to fly off to Hollywood and set up this fake film. Which sounds odd when you think about it. (I could go on forever explaining the falseness of the film, when films are just illusions). Where he meets make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who finds the idea exciting, believing he will fit right in. Knowing that if they are to pull this off they need a fake crew and production company. All the back-story and material to make this all seem real. Even going as far as having a script reading at a convention. There is a clear counterbalance between the madness of the idea and the political tension that leans to madness in Iraq, needed to ease the situation. Turning then to find a producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who would be mad enough to go along with it all. I’m not sure why Arkin was nominated for his supporting role which was more deserved by Bryan Cranston who had more screen-time and was with Mendez the whole way on the operation.
Once the plan is set-out and in motion in Hollywood, it’s time to head over to Iran to meet and train the hostages in order get them out with plausible stories, knowing their aliases inside-out and back to front. There’s a leap of trust that needs to be made by all of them, something that comes easier to some rather than others, especially Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) who first persuaded them to leave the U.S. embassy when the riots began. his judgement is questioned when he fails to trust what is essentially their last hope to exit the country alive. If we didn’t have this tension the film would lose its attraction and become predictable. The rest of the hostages are more willing whilst still scared, especially when they go on a location scouting trip where things really heat up for the team.
The sense of danger is always there, even when we don’t see it, we feel it in the other scenes making all the more believable. The look of the film with the blend of new and archive footage is not that of seamless, instead an acknowledgement that this really took place, just being adapted slightly for the screen ratio. Whilst other footage is sewn more seamlessly to create the atmosphere of the time. Of course theirs a sense of nostalgia which goes with any film set in another period, mainly in the fashions and the set design. It all works perfectly.
Why did this win the best picture Oscar then? It was because Hollywood was part of a successful C.I.A mission and they wanted to celebrate that fact, It’s also a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s not too flashy and not too dark. Even with Affleck in the lead role he doesn’t come across as he owns the picture and no one else can touch it It’s about the hostages and how there were saved, giving them ample time. Whilst its competitors which I saw had their strengths, Life of Pi in the art of story telling and the use of C.G.I, whilst Lincoln was a superb depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) to abolish slavery and end the civil war, it was too long and taxing on the audience with all the speeches which can overshadow the grand and classic performances. Whilst I never saw nor was interested by Zero Dark Thirty, the discussion of torture may have hindered any real prospect of getting that all important award. Leaving it between Argo and Life of Pi for me.