CGB Review of Jackie (2016)

The real title of this movie should been this line from Bobby Kennedy:
“What did we accomplish?”

This is my review of Jackie!


First Lady Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy was sitting right next to her husband, President John F. Kennedy when Lee Harvey Oswald shot the bullet that killed the 35th President of the US of A.  In the days after the assassination, Jackie must come to grips with her own grief and the reality of being basically shooed out of the White House all while her husband’s funeral is arranged.

So the Kennedys have a presence in my family.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the last Democrat my Grandma Joanie voted for.  She also witnessed the assassination of Robert Kennedy on television.  My uncle has read countless books on JFK and the assassination.  My own mother has always had great respect for Jackie Kennedy.  “She was a class act who held herself with dignity,” she said to me while we watched this film.  With this context in mind, you can imagine that my mother and I started the movie with hope that Natalie Portman would shine as the dignified and collected First Lady we admire.
When the movie was over, we looked at each other with the same thought:
Mrs. Kennedy, you deserve a better movie.

The Hits
To her credit, Natalie Portman definitely mastered Jackie’s signature voice.  It was said to be a very distinct voice with a unique pitch, and Portman nails this very well.   Her whole look is classic Jackie Kennedy, especially her fashion.  Keep in mind that Mrs. Kennedy inspired women’s fashion and her impact in this regard is still present to this day.  A lot of her costumes are classic Jackie Kennedy and that kind of mindfulness to her true fashion is to be admired.
I really appreciate the historical accuracy and attention to detail.  Everything from the costumes to the set design right down the camera lens gives the film an atmospheric, period-piece feel and boosts the credit of its authenticity.
This movie has a lot–and I do mean–A LOT of very good lines, primarily from Jackie herself.  Lines from “I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us” to “There are two kinds of women, those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed,” the second being an exact quote from the real Mrs. Kennedy.  Halfway through the film, I began to wonder if the screenwriter had previous experience writing monologues because Natalie Portman gives some very compelling monologues as the movie goes on.
The thing is I really, really wanted this to be a good movie.  However, I’m not going to lie and say that it was a good movie because, well, it just isn’t.  Allow me to present to you my litany of everything wrong with Jackie.

The Misses
Director Pablo Larrain really wanted this to be the next American Sniper, but didn’t understand what made American Sniper work.  For one, this movie tries WAY TOO HARD to be stylistic and as a result, the camera–good Lord, the camera–has too many close-ups of Natalie Portman’s face.  This would be fine if Portman was allowed to be more expressive, which she isn’t.  No, this movie relies on her doing that ugly-cry face and just looking off with a blank-ish face, so the incessant close-ups are pointless.  Oh, and speaking further on the camera, this movie will features Dutch angles for no reason and the lens will be dimmed so that the lighting is too bright and everything looks unnecessarily grimy.  Hey, guys, you don’t need to go grimy when you’re just filming a ball scene!  This is a biography about Jackie Kennedy, not Hacksaw Ridge!
Portraying a real life person is a very delicate task that requires a great deal of sensitivity and humility.  I don’t think Natalie Portman got this memo because she gives us a Jackie Kennedy who displays an oddly restrained erratic temperament that was never known of the real Mrs. Kennedy.  As a result, instead of being a sympathetic character who could be empathized with, this fictionalized version of Jackie who changes her mind every fifteen seconds, snaps at people for no reason, tries to hide from her problems instead of tackling them, and becomes very frustrating to watch.  Now this wouldn’t bother me too much if we had scenes of her dignified and collected manner contrasting those unstable moments.  Unfortunately, we don’t get those scenes, so all we’re left with is an unhinged character who is difficult to sympathize with.
Having watched a good number of biographies in my day, here’s something I’ve come to learn: Biographies are centered around something other than the person they’re focused on.  At its surface, American Sniper was the story of Chris Kyle, but at its core it is a study of PTSD among our nation’s veterans.  The Theory of Everything may focus on Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde, but beyond the surface it’s about reaching for the stars even when the stars are impossibly high above your head.   Even I’m Not Ashamed, which has some glaring flaws of its own, propelled the overarching narrative of what one person is capable of when they place their lives in God’s hands.
So with all this in context, what is Jackie really about?  Is it the story of women in politics?  I don’t think so.  It’s never established whether Jackie is treated differently because of her gender or not, and no other female character faces marginalization from the system.  Is this the story of grief?  Not really.  JFK’s own presence as a character is never felt, so we can only watch characters grieve without feeling it ourselves.  At best, it could be the story of picking up the pieces of a short-lived legacy, but nothing about Natalie Portman’s performance conveys to us that she herself is even convinced of her husband’s legacy.
Here’s the really sad thing: Every problem I just went over would have been solved in the blink of an eye if the movie had opened with the assassination.  Here, let’s fix that right now, shall we?!
(Opens with black; a gunshot is heard, screams are audible) (Camera cuts to JACKIE, who sits in shock and silence, staring down at her husband, who lies slumped on her lap.  Slowly JACKIE places her hand on her cheek.  She lowers her hand and gasps quietly at the sight of her husband’s blood on her fingertips).
There!  Isn’t that better?  Now we the audience are in shock, Natalie Portman is in shock, we share her state of mind and now we are relying on her to be our emotional anchor.  Maybe instead of opening the film with a terrible violin score and Natalie Portman staring blankly into the distance on some beach, how about open your movie in a way that places us in the main character’s shoes?

What more can I say?  Jackie is a missed opportunity in every sense of the word.  It’s the kind of movie that wants to win awards, but doesn’t know what it needs to do to deserve such acclaim.  Hopefully another Jackie Kennedy movie comes out in the future, but if it ends up being anything like this film, then perhaps it is better for Mrs. Kennedy-Onassis to remain a historical figure untouched by crummy cinema.

Saint Helen, pray for us.

1 a Jackie Kennedy (2)
Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis (1929-1994).  You were a fine woman, a class act who held herself with poise and grace.  Please pray for us.

For you history buffs out there, I took the liberty of finding the original White House tour given by First Lady Jackie Kennedy herself, which the movie does recreate to great effect.   I hope you enjoy this little slice of American history.

CGB Review of American Sniper

So I actually saw this movie on January 16th, the day of its wide release (its limited release date was Christmas Day of 2014).  Now I have no military experience and no one in my family has ever been deployed.  Because of this, war movies tend to alienate me.  Going into this movie, I thought I would either be bored or hate this movie.

By the end credits, I seriously considered buying another ticket for the next showing.

This is my review of American Sniper!

A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulder.
A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulders.

This movie is a character study of Chris Kyle and his experiences as the most lethal sniper in American history.  The Chris Kyle we meet is a man with a savior complex and a sense of duty.  The savior complex comes not from a need to boost his own ego, but rather a mentality of “If-I-don’t-who-will?” His trauma is revealed in subtle ways, like how the sound of a car engine running or a dog barking makes him stop in his tracks and look around cautiously, as if anticipating something terrible. He’s neither ashamed nor proud of his job; it’s a job that forces him to do horrible things, but it has to be done for the greater good.  This character is played to perfection by Bradley Cooper.

I criminally underestimated Cooper.  Before this movie, I only saw him as that guy from the Hangover movies.  It was jarring to see a bulked up Bradley Cooper (he’s an average sized guy in real life), but his peformance is mesmerizing.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Actually, if you see this movie and then go on YouTube to watch Conan O’Brien’s interview with the real-life Chris Kyle, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the movie character and the actual person.  Cooper nails the manerisms and physical appearance of the man he is portraying.  During one scene where he is walking through the veterans’ hospital to see his friend Biggles, I started calling him “Chris” in my mind.

His wife Taya Renae Kyle is played by Sienna Miller, and I like how she never comes off as nagging or imposing.  She’s a woman who fiercely loves her husband, but because she’s a civilian whose never been in combat, her ability to understand is limited and this (justifiably) frustrates her.  When Taya expresses her concerns, Chris’ stoic demeanor does come off as cold and uncaring, but it becomes clear that while he does love and care for his wife, he can only say and express so much because what he’s really feeling inside is too great to bear.

War in this film is portrayed as an inescapable situation that no one wanted, but is the reality they have to live in.  There are some really hard scenes to sit through, including one scene that involves an Iraqi insurgent holding a drill to a child’s head.  That scene had me crying like a baby.  Other than one scene that involves a dust storm, the editing allows you to see what’s going on and the pacing never skips a beat.  Every scene serves a purpose and there is no filler to be found.

Just a disclaimer: To any Muslim moviegoers who are afraid of seeing any Islamophobia in this movie, you should be okay.  The Qur’an is mentioned only once in a conversation that has nothing to do with Islam, and none of the characters bring up the Prophet Muhammad or Allah.  Actually, now that I think about it, Islam is a non-factor in the movie.  The antagonists are Al Qaeda terrorists, but we never see them reading the Qur’an or using a prayer rug. Meanwhile Iraqi civilian characters are portrayed as vulnerable people who are just as trapped and unknowing of who they can trust as the soldiers are.

Bradley Cooper’s thoughtful and subdued performance is the rock that this movie stands on.  If you want to see what this actor is capable of, forget Aloha and watch American Sniper instead.  This is a powerful film.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.