Movie Reviews: Jackie, Christine, Lion

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Movie Reviews: Jackie, Christine, Lion

All reviews were previously published at The National.

Jackie

THIS piercing, unique and peculiarly powerful film gives us an unsettlingly up-close-and-personal look at the gunshot heard around the world and more specifically the effect that had on one of the people closest to it.  Framed via her interview with Life magazine’s Theodore H White (Billy Crudup), we see how Jackie Kennedy’s life was utterly shattered by the assassination of her husband President John F Kennedy. She tries to pick up the pieces with the help of her brother-in-law Bobby (a terrific Peter Sarsgaard) as they plan the all-important funeral.

There have been many films made about that most famous assassination on November 22, 1963 in Dallas – not least Oliver Stone’s seminal investigatory drama JFK – as well as about Mrs Kennedy herself, but this decisively unorthodox biopic does that rarest of things: it gives us a fresh perspective on a subject about which we thought we knew everything.

The lead role is a tall ask, especially if you need to capture the likeness and mannerisms of one of the most famous women of the 20th century, while never stepping over the mark into unintentional caricature. But Portman is more than up to the task by giving a complex, fascinating performance that conveys the utter shock thrust upon a woman of poise and grace.

It’s a near-perfect imitation – showcased in the recreation of the famous White House tour she gave in 1962 – but there is something more than that going on under the surface, a subtle specificity to the way she plays it that makes her feel like a real person as well as the larger-than-life icon.

Some of the film’s most compelling scenes are simply those which allow the camera to linger on close-ups of her face as she looks in the mirror to wipe her husband’s blood and brains off her face; standing in utter shock next to Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) on the plane as he’s sworn in as the new President while her husband lies dead; or walking aimlessly around the White House trying on dresses like a phantom suddenly rendered useless in her own life.  She can do absolutely nothing about what’s happened to her except try and take it in her stride as best she can while the eyes the world waits to see what she does or says next.  “Don’t think for one minute I’m going to let you publish that,” she tells White as he probes her with unforgiving interview questions a mere week after her husband’s death, so desperate to control what the public will think of her now.

She’s engulfed by a mesmeric, alluring and deeply unsettling tone captured by Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s directorial approach that is so at odds with what we’ve come to expect from a traditional biopic.

Then there’s the wonderfully strange score by Mica Levi which swaps orthodox biopic score swellings for sombre piano thuds and warped other-worldly sounds that carries over the peculiarity of her magnificent work on Under the Skin. The soundtrack perfectly conveys the simultaneous sense of shock and overwhelming grief that permeates the film as a whole.

Most movies come and go without making much of a lasting impact, providing entertainment for their runtime but not much more than that. Jackie is no such film. It’s a stunning combination of performance and mood that makes for a singularly powerful cinematic experience that isn’t easy to shake from the mind. 5/5

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Production still from set of CHRISTINE, 2015

Christine

THE infamous story of 29-year-old TV news reporter Christine Chubbuck has gone on to spark not one but two films about her life and, more specifically, her suicide on live television in the summer of 1974.

Last year we had the part documentary, dramatized re-enactment Kate Plays Christine which saw actress Kate Lyn Sheil attempt to get inside the mindsight (and physical appearance) of a woman who would ultimately choose to shoot herself on the air.

This is a more straightforward but no less affecting film that focuses on Christine’s (Rebecca Hall) day-to-day time as a reporter in Sarasota, Florida. She does her best to tell stories she feels matter while becoming increasingly frustrated by the sensationalism that has crept into the business and her channel in particular as it struggles to compete in the ratings.

There are certain script issues which speaks to scriptwriter Craig Shilowhich’s first-time effort, not least a meandering quality to some of the subplots, particularly one involving Christine’s co-worker George (Michael C Hall) wanting to date her that feels unneeded in the larger scope of the picture.

But it’s significantly elevated by a kind of low-key intensity in the direction by Antonio Campos (Simon Killer, Afterschool), as well as Hall’s truly captivating and poignant central performance. Hall plays her with more than just a woman-on-the-edge conventionality, bringing pathos and complexity to a determined but deeply troubled human being.

The “if it bleeds – it leads” mantra that so informed the sensationalism-themed Nightcrawler (a strange companion piece to this film in many ways) and relayed to her team by her no-nonsense boss Michael (Tracy Letts) infuriated Christine more than anything, the inhumanity of it for the sake of viewership compounding her fragile state of depression and anxiety.

Christine’s notorious final words were: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living colour, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.” Would you look away? It’s an uncomfortable question that this disquieting film isn’t afraid to ask with stark, haunting clarity backed up with empathy and understanding. 4/5

Lion

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SOME stories are so incredible that they simply must be true. Few other films this year are likely to exemplify that sentiment better than Lion. Based on his memoir A Long Way Home, the film tells the true story of Saroo Brierley, a five-year-old boy (played by adorable newcomer Sunny Pawar) living in extreme poverty with his hard-working mother and siblings.

One night he goes out to a train station with his older brother Guddu to scavenge for any work. But after accidentally falling asleep Saroo wakes up frightened and alone, inadvertently boarding a decommissioned train that carries him 1,600 kilometres away to bustling Calcutta where he struggles desperately to find his way back home. He is eventually found and subsequently adopted by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham), a loving middle-class Australian couple who want to help give disadvantaged kids a better start in life.

25 years later Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) is at university looking to start a career in hotel management and is generally living a good life. However, the memories of his past and his true origins haunt him. And so he sets himself the seemingly impossible task of finding where he came from, pushing away his caring family and girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara) in the process.

Lion certainly doesn’t work because of its form, which sticks mainly to conventionality in an attempt to make it appeal to as wide and mainstream of an audience as possible. Nor is it particularly adept at exploring the various racial and privilege themes teased by its attention-grabbing real-life tale.

It’s a crowd-pleasing success because of the compelling performances, namely a never-better Patel, and empathy it has for the central character’s deeply personal and ambitious plight. How is he supposed to find home when he barely remembers it beyond a town name and the fleeting image of a water tank across from the station platform in which he awoke a quarter of a century ago? Director Garth Davis’ manages to make Saroo’s search feel cinematic in its own way – who knew someone scrolling through Google Earth could be so riveting?

It’s not exactly as Earth-shattering as perhaps its unbelievable true story suggests, and often feels hampered by its need to be a safe, dependable watch. But there’s much heart and sincerity to admire here and plenty of sweeping emotion in which to get swept up. 3/5

About the Author

I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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