It’s not very often that I’m torn on a film, but Robert J. Flaherty’s pseudo documentary Man of Aran is one that I am. First the good news: from a technical standpoint, this is a visually captivating film. Crammed with impossibly rich and downright dangerous shots of the treacherous North Atlantic, the blacks are as dark as squid ink, the whites are as shimmeringly luminous as Tijuana silver, and the greys are a stunningly natural and lovely compromise between the two. These shades of grey are what impressed me most about this film. You’d be hard pressed to find a better fit for a nitrate print.
Now for the bad news: for all its visual allure, Man of Aran is boring. It unflinchingly shows what it takes to survive on a barren rock in the middle of the ocean, but it fails to explain why anyone would choose to do it. I was ready to leave after half an hour of watching waves crash on the rocks and men who look the Edge attack a shark. Yawn! I would have liked this better if Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie” were part of the soundtrack, maybe. Maybe not.
With Colman ‘Tiger’ King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin, Patch ‘Red Beard’ Ruadh, Patcheen Faherty, Tommy O’Rourke, ‘Big Patcheen’ Conneely of the West, Stephen Dirrane, Pat McDonough
Production: Gainsborough Pictures
Distribution: Gaumont British Distributors (UK), Gaumont British Picture Corporation of America (USA), Éditions Montparnasse (France)
(Dryden Theatre) A+ (visuals) / F (everything else) / C (average)
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy: her name conjures up specific images—pink Chanel, a pillbox hat, pearls, big sunglasses, all illuminated by her unshakable poise. Jackie, the new biopic by Peruvian director Pablo Larraín, portrays the iconic former First Lady in a light I didn’t quite expect: strategic. While it certainly isn’t flattering, it doesn’t come off as negative, either.
Taking place over the days following the assassination of J.F.K. (Caspar Phillipson), Jackie is essentially a character study that follows Mrs. Kennedy (Natalie Portman) as she steadies and readies herself for both her husband’s funeral and the changes that lie ahead for her and her children (Sunnie Pelant, Aiden and Brody Weinberg). In the midst of her grief, she carefully and with an earnest sense of purpose culls various elements to assemble her husband’s legacy—which she begins with Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession.
From a technical standpoint, Jackie is impressive. Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography is lovely, using a pallet of drab, saturated tones that calls to mind Kodak snapshots from the time period to create a somber look that reads clearly as November. He offsets this visual effect nicely with splashes of vivid reds. If nothing else, Jackie is a pretty movie. Structured with split time sequences that go backward and forward, the attention to detail is excellent: the film does a great job reproducing not just the White House and Mrs. Kennedy’s 1962 televised tour of it, but the early ’60s generally. Portman plays her part capably; she’s convincing as Mrs. Kennedy despite her annoying tendency to overdo the drama.
That’s about it for the positive. For all the pains Jackie takes to look and play out perfect, it gets a lot wrong. Those New England accents aren’t quite right, and none of the actors seem able to stick with them. Peter Sarsgaard is epically miscast as Bobby Kennedy, whom he doesn’t even try to emulate. I didn’t realize who he is until well into the film. It’s no secret that Mrs. Kennedy smoked, but popping pills and drinking as she gets dressed in the morning? And telling a priest (John Hurt) that she should’ve been a shop girl or a stenographer? I doubt it. The graphic scene of J.F.K.’s assassination, stuck in somewhere past the middle of the film well after a harrowing and far more effective scene of Mrs. Kennedy staring into a mirror and wiping blood off her face, is completely unnecessary; it comes off as a crude way to shock the audience—I jumped in my seat when I saw it, but not in a good way. The sloppy appearance and condescendingly bored demeanor of the reporter (Billy Crudup) is bizarre; sitting there in his Oxford with his tie undone as he interviews Mrs. Kennedy, I couldn’t help but wonder if in reality she would’ve opened up to him let alone allowed him into her home. He may be handsome, but his entire presence bummed me out.
The “psychological portrait” approach is mildly interesting for a little while, but the intrigue wears off. Jackie is nothing insightful, groundbreaking, or thought provoking. It could have been far more compelling considering its subject—this is total Oscar fodder, but it’s done so dully. I hope Larraín’s other new biopic, Neruda, is better.