Jackie

Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt

Director: Pablo Larraín

Writer: Noah Oppenheim


Of all the American presidents, Kennedy is perhaps the most mythologised. After a less than three-year presidency that came to a sudden, tragic end, he is remembered by many as one of the greatest in the country’s history. The Kennedy administration is often seen as a lost golden age for the country, a time of hope and endless possibilities. So strong is his this idea that the spots on his record such as the Bay of Pigs fiasco and his notorious womanising have done nothing to tarnish it. Kennedy’s legacy has been such a driving force in American history that it’s easy to forget that it is ultimately a myth. Although Kennedy was indeed an impressive man and a good president with great ideas, his legacy carries a sense of idealism and romance that no real person could possibly embody. Camelot, as it came to be called, is an idea that his since immortalised the memory of John F. Kennedy. This film tells the story of the legend’s author, Jackie Kennedy, the President’s beloved and equally impressive First Lady.

Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) set out deliver this message to the world when she summoned Life journalist Theodore H. White for an interview a week after her husband’s death. The film provides a fictionalised version of this interview with a journalist played by Billy Crudup. Thus we are given an account of Jackie’s days as the First Lady. The film follows her from the early days to her famous TV tour of the White House to the day of the assassination. As her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) takes control of the situation, Jackie must all at once process the terrible shock that has occurred, work out how best to mourn the man who has inspired so many conflicting emotions within her, and decide what role she must play in defining the late president’s legacy. To this end she seeks guidance from such confidantes as Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and a priest (John Hurt).

In the days following the President’s assassination the First Lady’s state of mind is disordered and fragmented and the story’s structure reflects that. The film jumps back and forth in time and creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of a woman going through an unimaginable crisis. Before, she was a dutiful wife whose whole identity was defined by her husband’s pursuits and ambition. Upon his death she no longer knows who she’s supposed to be, she only knows that she cannot be her own person. She still has a duty to perform and her grief and distress is secondary to that of the country. Privately she finds that she must confront her feelings towards her husband, a man whose life dominated her own and who was unfaithful to her, in order to grieve and mourn him. This is something she has to do alone as she finds herself largely neglected by those who are more concerned with the political effects of this tragedy. Upon the death of the nation’s leader the need to swear in his successor as soon as possible is so paramount that hardly anyone notices the widow sitting in the adjacent room on the plane still wearing the dress stained with her husband’s blood.

Natalie Portman is a tour de force as the bereaved First Lady. Her speech and expressions are wonderfully deliberate as she conveys a character putting on a performance, donning a number of masks depending on who Jackie needs or is required to be. In the 1961 documentary she is the gracious, glamorous host introducing the world to a new kind of White House with a new kind of president. At Kennedy’s funeral (which she makes sure is elaborate enough for the President to be remembered like Lincoln, rather than forgotten like Garfield and McKinley), she is the strong, devoted wife putting on a brave face for her children and the public. With the journalist she is the composed, antagonistic narrator, adamant that not a single word will be printed without her approval. The moments when her masks drop and we see her true vulnerable self are devastatingly affective as are her moments of endurance and determination as she takes control of her own life and her husband’s legacy. The astonishing layers Portman brings to the character as she balances the complex, often-conflicting motivations and emotions are simply breathtaking.

“This will be your version of what happened” says the journalist as he begins his interview with the First Lady. This is a film that has set out to tell Jacqueline Kennedy’s story on her own terms and it does so without convention or sentimentality. Oppenheim’s screenplay is startling in the liberties it takes, depicting Jackie in her most private, vulnerable moments. The movie is by all means a fiction, in that it isn’t based on any credited sources, but the profound insights it conveys through this complex, fascinating woman are still deeply moving and strikingly authentic. Equally striking are the visual aspects from the beautifully intimate cinematography to the alluring costumes, as well as the mesmerising score accompanying them. Jackie is a wholly remarkable film that defies the conventions of the traditional biographical films that tend to emerge around awards season. It is a captivating, challenging and stunningly sincere picture of grief, identity and myth.

★★★★★

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoë Kravitz, Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson, Bill Skarsgård, Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Noah Oppenheim


A typical problem with film franchises based on novels that decide to split their final instalments into two separate parts is that the first half tends to suffer because of it. When the Harry Potter series did it first, and then The Hunger Games afterwards, both of their penultimate chapters served only to set up the finale and therefore did not stand up as individual films with their own self-contained stories. Although I like both of these franchises, watching the first halves of their final episodes proved to be quite tiresome as they required me to sit through two hours of a non-story in order to reach the good parts. When I have to watch that kind of movie in a franchise that I don’t even like, it becomes the Chinese Water Torture. That, in a nutshell, is how I felt watching Allegiant.

Following the insurgency in the previous film and the revelation of an outside colony overseeing their city, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz) and Peter (Miles Teller) escape Chicago to seek them out. After venturing into the wasteland that is the world outside their city, the group are discovered by soldiers who escort them to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. There Tris meets David (Jeff Daniels) who explains that Chicago is an experiment designed to fix the damaged genes of their people by isolating them in the hopes that they can eventually birth individuals of genetic purity, the divergents. Tris is told that she alone is pure while the rest of her people are all “damaged”. David explains that he hopes to use Tris to find the answers to their problems and to save their people. Meanwhile Chicago continues to grow restless under the rule of Evelyn (Naomi Watts) as Johanna (Octavia Spencer) and the Allegiant try to stop her from overthrowing the factions and imposing a ruthless dictatorship.

The Divergent series has never made much sense to me with its factions and convoluted rules and whatnot, but this whole idea of genetic experimentation just did my head in. As Jeff Daniels adopted his ‘I am definitely not a villain’ expression and explained to Tris the particulars of their history and the reasons behind the experiment, I gave up on trying to care about four sentences in. While I had my issues with The Hunger Games, at least that series knew to keep things simple. Divergent gets so bogged down in longwinded exposition and feeble explanations that I almost felt like I was watching a Wachowski movie (at least then I might have been treated to some impressive visuals and decent action). It doesn’t help to have a plot that refuses to move along and advance as the themes of rebellion from Insurgent get played out all over again. Most of what happens in the outside world consists of Tris and her friends sitting on their hands as they wait for the film’s two-hour runtime to expire so that the next movie can finally begin. This film has all the aimlessness and confusion of the first two films with an extra dose of mind-numbing boredom thrown in.

Over the course of this franchise Shailene Woodley’s performance has been its one consistent saving grace as she manages to breathe life into what is otherwise a bland and characterless protagonist. In this film however Woodley’s acting abilities cannot do anything for the fact that her character is given almost nothing to do. Most of her screen-time is dedicated towards disinterested conversations between her and David about genes and human nature and how special she is until she proceeds to take part in a climax that I would have called underwhelming if I had actually had any expectations or investment. I genuinely hope this film at least propels Woodley to stardom the same way The Hunger Games did for Jennifer Lawrence because she deserves far better than this. In fact, the rest of this franchise’s cast (minus Jai Courtney) deserve better.

While watching these finale-part-one movies has consistently proven to be a largely dull and tedious experience, at least with Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay I was invested enough in the franchises to follow them through and in the end found the ultimate payoff to be satisfying. This film however has taken everything that I already disliked about the Divergent series and turned it up to 11. The constant exposition dumps, the one-dimensional characters that put great talent to waste, the sheer absence of any sort of inspiration or originality; Allegiant brings all of these elements into full force. Standing as what is easily the weakest instalment in what is already a weak franchise, I can only hope that the climax they are building up to in Ascendant proves to be extraordinary. I won’t be holding my breath though.