John Hurt

Jackie

24/01/17

Jackie Kennedy was a celebrated style icon when I was growing up but, I must confess, she’s somebody I haven’t given a great deal of thought to… until now.

Pablo Larrain’s somber and affecting film looks at her experiences during and just after the assassination of JFK. Framed by an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) it shows how her life was transformed and marginalised by her husband’s death. Indeed, within minutes of his demise, as his successor Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in, she suddenly, shockingly finds herself an outcast, a woman totally defined by her husband’s former role. Without him she is an encumbrance, an embarrassment, somebody deemed to be without value.

The film concentrates on her stubborn attempts to ensure that the memory of Jack Kennedy lives on. She insists that he is given a state funeral and that she be allowed to walk alongside her children behind his coffin in an elaborate funeral cortege – and she ruthlessly manipulates everything that is written about him and her.

In the lead role, Natalie Portman delivers an eerie impersonation, capturing Jackie’s style and her weird drawling voice with uncanny precision. It’s a barnstorming performance, one that is likely to win her a well-deserved lead actress Oscar next month. If the film itself does not quite measure up to that stellar performance, it’s nonetheless pretty assured, uncannily cutting between genuine historical footage and skilful recreations without putting a foot wrong. Just look, for instance, at the recreation of Jackie’s famous ‘tour of the White house’ television programme, which is chillingly accurate in every last detail. Most of the other actors have to be content with cameo roles but Peter Sarsgaard shines as Bobby Kennedy and there are winning turns from Greta Gerwig, Richard E. Grant and from John Hurt as the elderly catholic priest that Jackie pours her heart out to in a couple of key scenes.

But make no mistake, this is Portman’s film and she absolutely relishes the opportunity to inhabit a role that allows her to stretch herself as an actor. If she does get to lift that Oscar statuette, it won’t be the night’s biggest surprise.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Hercules

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25/1/15

This film came and went from the UK box office making barely a ripple. Worth catching up with on DVD? Absolutely. In fact, it’s a hoot, mainly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and there’s some astute casting choices here. Dwayne Johnson plays the musclebound hero and we join him some time after he has undertaken his twelve epic tasks. We see them enacted in the opening scenes, employing decent CGI, but then, the camera pulls back and shows us something closer to the reality of the situation. Hercules is now a mercenary who works for the highest bidder and though possessed of exceptional strength, he doesn’t undertake his missions alone, but with a crack team of warriors. These include his best pal Autoclytus (Rufus Sewell) as adept with the sword as he is with a well-timed witty wisecrack and resident seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) who having foreseen his own imminent death, lends a certain gallows humour to the proceedings. We quickly learn that those Herculean ‘tasks’ have been somewhat exaggerated. The mythical beasts were just men in masks and this story concerns itself chiefly with the way myths are created, how fairly ordinary events are, over time, amped up into legend.

When the team is approached by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), the daughter of Lord Cotys (John Hurt), who is looking to hire some mercenaries, Hercules agrees to undertake the task in exchange for his own weight in gold. But as he and his friends set about training Lord Cotys’s army for battle it soon becomes clear that Cotys has been somewhat economical with the truth and maybe it’s time for Hercules and his crew to pick their sides more carefully.

Director Brett Ratner, hasn’t always delivered the best product in the past (Rush Hour, anybody? Red Dragon?) but this is good, undemanding fun, with some well paced battle sequences and a better script than this kind of story generally enjoys. Johnson is appealing in the title role, showing a certain vulnerability beneath the physique (even if his friendship with Ergenia’s squawking brat of a son is hard to fathom) and there’s a nice turn by the ever dependable Peter Mullan as the scowling Sitacles. Think The Magnificent Seven with breastplates and togas and you’ll know what to expect.

3.9 stars

Philip Caveney