Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Billy Crudup”

Jackie

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th January 2017

4.5 stars, Rated M, 99 mins

The first thing that strikes you when watching Natalie Portman on screen as Jackie Kennedy is that the actress must have done her homework. Portman, an Oscar winner for Black Swan who has forged a reputable career since she debuted at age 12 in Leon: The Professional, took a break from Hollywood to complete a psychology degree at Harvard because she considers being smart more important than being famous. And so, if the strangely accented, halting drawl comes across as a bit mannered in her evocation of JFK’s First Lady, rest assured that Portman will have worked tirelessly for this role, and what we’re seeing is the real deal.

jackie

Jackie is a strange sort of biopic in many ways. Principally, it doesn’t seek to tell the tale from the beginning – we learn nothing of how the socialite met her prince and established the house of Camelot. Instead, the film focuses on the days surrounding JFK’s assassination in Dallas, skipping between Jackie’s interview with a dispassionate reporter (a steely and terrific Billy Crudup) as she conjures up recollections of that dreadful day, and a depiction of the actual event and its immediate aftermath.

With a great cast and evident dedication to accurately relaying history, it’s an often devastating watch. Portman’s superb performance as distraught widow is underscored by the tension between her right to privately grieve and a lack of time in which to do it. The brutal haste with which JFK is succeeded is galling: Vice President and Lady Johnson (a perfect John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant) make excellent villains as Jackie witnesses his swearing in as President on Air Force One mere hours after the shooting, while she stands dazed in the background.

The other thing that marks Jackie out is director Pablo Larrain’s very particular style of filmmaking. Shot on 16mm film, every frame looks like archive footage from the period (excepting the small quibble that Portman is too beautiful to truly convince as the albeit stylish Jackie O), and several scenes are recreated shot for shot from clips you can view for yourself on YouTube. The production design of the White House and, of course, Jackie’s signature suits are spot-on, while her staffers (Greta Gerwig, Richard E. Grant, both terrific) and brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) perfectly embody the 1960s in their speech and attitudes.

But above all, this is Portman’s film. With tangible pain, she portrays a woman preoccupied by her husband’s legacy and reputation, while clearly drowning in grief. There is nothing as lonely as the sight of the former First Lady wandering vacantly around the White House in a pink suit stained with her husband’s blood. Harrowing and fascinating, Jackie is a beautiful, painful throwback to a terrible moment in history.

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Spotlight

Spotlight is the fascinating, emotionally-charged retelling of tenacious journalistic efforts to expose systematic child abuse in Boston’s Catholic Church. Set principally in the early 2000s, the film focuses on the titular four-person investigative reporting team at the Boston Globe newspaper who unwittingly uncovered offences which spiralled into a shockingly wide-reaching conspiracy of silence.

The heavyweight cast is headed by Michael Keaton (fresh off the Oscar-winning Birdman and here reminding us of how good he was in 1994’s lighter-hearted insight into journalism, The Paper) and includes typically superb acting by Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci. Playing against his usual laidback type, Mark Ruffalo is uptight and intense alongside Rachel McAdams’ bright, persistent reporter whose investigations lead to unexpected revelations. Every character is serious, committed and articulate, and completely draw us into this enthralling eye-opener.

Writer-director Tom McCarthy has a lengthy acting career which makes him an unusually familiar face for someone now being lauded behind the camera. We have him to thank for intelligent movies The Visitor and The Station Agent, and now the Oscars are rightly knocking at his door, it gives one faith that the industry hasn’t yet died a death from regurgitated remakes, comic book adaptations and YA dystopia.

Instead, eschewing glamour for drama, his very wordy, harshly realistic script demands we listen carefully as devastatingly authentic testimonies are delivered powerfully by unknown actors.

 The film may have captured awards attention due to its “worthy” subject matter, but there is no disputing Spotlight is an intelligent, restrained and completely gripping story which needs to be told.

I can hear the dolphins clapping

Eat Pray Love

A best-selling memoir about an [actually pretty awesome-sounding] midlife crisis, it was inevitable this book would be snapped up and turned into a star-powered movie for the post-Bridget Jones era.  Julia Roberts, who I would watch opening mail I think she’s so intoxicatingly watchable, plays an everywoman New Yorker who decides after eight years of marriage to leave her husband (played against stereotype by Billy Crudup), and, following a doomed rebound relationship with a younger man (a charismatic James Franco), takes off for a year to find herself.  Well, actually – to feel something, to marvel and to experience life.  As Liz plans her gap year – 4 months eating in Rome, 4 months praying in an ashram in India, and 4 months living (and loving) in Bali – it’s hard not to start conjuring up your own fantasies about an alternate reality.

I haven’t read the book, eschewing it just as I did the Bridget Jones saga (though I enjoyed the first of those films, again largely due to the luminous central performance by Renee Zellweger).  So I can’t compare the book with this movie, but I don’t think that’s necessary.  Eat Pray Love was clearly going to be a film for like-minded women of a certain age, and to that end I have to admit I enjoyed it, and was happy to go along for the ride. Who hasn’t ended a relationship and dreamed of chucking in one’s dreary life and moving to somewhere exotic?  Fortunately for Liz, she has the means to follow her whim.

It goes without saying the scenes in Italy make one want to move there immediately – provided, of course, one has a seemingly bottomless purse, and can make new friends who are local enough to show you the inside story, but international enough to enjoy your foreign (ie. American) ways to want to hang out with you (this is where Liz fails as our everywoman and comes off more as our film-star Roberts).  Liz certainly falls on her feet, renting a suitably dilapidated apartment for her time in the Eternal City, and spending her days eating, drinking and learning the language sufficiently to give her own back when dissed by an Italian matriarch for being a divorcee travelling alone.

And then we’re off to India, where Liz meets others on a Life Journey, imparts and receives wisdom, and leaves with a greater appreciation for her marriage and the ability to forgive herself for ending it.  There she meets kooky characters worthy of any road-trip movie, notably Richard Jenkins (understated and excellent in fare such as The Visitor) who gives her a nickname and unsolicited advice before sharing his own piece of personal tragedy on a rooftop.  Without coming across as creepy.  A great actor indeed.

By which time Liz is due in Bali, and we understand she’s travelled quite long enough on her path to emotional recovery to now warrant a bit of loving.  I’m not sure whether the meet-cute of being run off the road by Javier Bardem’s Felipe is true to the book, or indeed the author’s real story, but it’s certainly convenient.  The couple spend a long time enjoying one another’s company and (actually refreshingly) don’t fall into one another’s arms straight away.  And then all that remains is for Liz to battle the “love again” phase of her adventure and sail off into the sunset, and we can all go home.

The film is far too long (as now is this review), as presumably the director strove to include as much as possible from the book.  Because of this it does lose energy halfway through India (no doubt because we know we still have 4 months in Indonesia to get through), but to her credit, Julia Roberts manages to keep us engaged nonetheless.  Eat Pray Love will affect those who feel its unsubtle message deep in their soul, and that was undoubtedly the strength of the book – not its artistic merit or original and profound sentiments.  Everyone else can just enjoy the scenery.

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