Jackie

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Jackie

For those of us who watched live TV for four days in 1963 following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the reality of those days is stamped permanently in our memories. It would be hard to exaggerate the impact of seeing history unfold as we watched it happen.

The release of Jackie more than half a century later stirs those memories again and fills in the blanks we didn’t see. The good news is that Natalie Portman has made a serious and successful effort to capture both the quiet and the fierce sides of Jackie Kennedy as she designed every detail of four days of tribute to her slain husband in the relentless glare of live television.

When she learned that no one had any imagery of the funerals of the assassinated Presidents Garfield and McKinley, Jackie designed her husband’s ceremonies after those of Lincoln. Determined, she insisted on the long public march of the world’s assembled leaders as they followed the horse drawn casket down Constitution Avenue. That became an image etched in history.

Aside from Portman’s admirable effort to fill in detail without overdoing her performance, how does the film hold up? It suffers from trying to crowd four days into two hours without identifying the key characters in the Kennedy administration or the foreign leaders who came to the funeral. Younger generations need to know who these people are.

The major error is made by director Pablo Larrain when, without explanation, he shifts back and forth between Jackie’s pre-assassination TV tour of the White House and her preparations for the funeral. That tour had not been a public success when it happened and there is no conceivable reason for it to be in the movie. The result for new generations of viewers can only be confusion.

Peter Sarsgaard does a solid, restrained job of portraying Bobby Kennedy who never left Jackie’s side until he went into a long personal seclusion after he had done all his duties. Greta Gerwig creates Nancy Tuckerman, Jackie’s smart, loyal friend who attended to the details of her friend’s life. In a brief appearance as Jack Kennedy, Caspar Phillipson caught JFK’s expressions with uncanny accuracy. But we need their identities.

The main problem: the unnecessarily confusing intrusion of that White House tour. The main strength: Natalie Portman’s carefully considered portrayal. As Jackie Kennedy directed the details of the aftermath of the shooting, she was fully aware that she was creating the official historical record of the assassination. Five decades later, historians are grateful for that as they watch the TV record of everything she did to preserve the truth of those four days. This movie fills in some of the off–camera drama.

Spectator Abraham Zapruder alone never stopped his camera as the shots rang out. Seeing that moment again here, we wonder how Jacqueline Kennedy dealt with the immediate aftermath. Natalie Portman’s portrayal shows her strength and determination as she designed a funeral that history would remember.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Jackie
Word Count : 504
Running time : 2:18
Rating : PG-13

 

Fences

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Fences

Denzel Washington directed and stars in Fences, August Wilson’s powerhouse story that leaves audiences in a state of appreciative exhaustion. From beginning to end, the script unleashes a mood of intensity that would be damaged instantly by any weak performance. There is not one of those here.

The opening scenes establish Troy (Denzel Washington) as a talkative garbage collector who double teams the trash route with his friend Bono (Stephen Henderson). Troy comes home to his wife Rose (Viola Davis) where most of the film unfolds in his backyard. Because there are so few scenic interruptions to August Wilson’s dialogue, the audience focuses entirely on the strong performers.

Denzel Washington’s Troy is a man wrapped in deep personal pride and aggressive instincts born of life within the parameters of segregation. Whoever is with him at a given moment becomes a listener because this man doesn’t discuss anything. He lectures, comments, and issues orders. He leaves no holes in his outer personality for penetration by friend or foe. This is a man who refuses ever to be hurt again.

Troy has been married to Rose (Viola Davis) for eighteen years and together they have one son who lives at home and one by an earlier woman of Troy’s who comes home only when he needs money. Rose wins our admiration and our concern as she creates her own reality within the confines set by Troy. They laugh together and live within his rules. When the confines shatter, she loses the reality she has built and with it, herself. Viola Davis conveys all this in a shattering performance.

Credit Jovan Adepo with creating Cory, the son who suffers repeatedly from his father’s inability – and refusal – to connect with him emotionally. Cory is derailed from his successful path through school by his father’s refusal of either emotional or financial support when he disagrees with the choices the boy is making. Rooted as he is in past racial history,Troy simply can’t grasp the new path Cory has found through cultural change.

The principals in Troy’s life – his truck partner, his wife, his son – are fine, strong human beings and yet all of them must operate within the dictates of this towering man who sucks in all the air around them. And when Troy succumbs to a life twist he can’t resist, his family must adjust. He continues to insist on the still dominant and confining rules of segregation that he has always known.

Struck in the face, we realize that August Wilson is showing us again the iron limitations around being black in 1953 eight decades after the Civil War ended slavery. The rules of living for this family were still made of solid iron. The saddest part is that Troy Maxson couldn’t understand that his son Cory was leading them all into a new culture that was still unrecognizable to his family. Denzel Washington makes the foul, silent culture of the ‘50s jump alive.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Fences
Word Count : 497
Running time : 2:18
Rating : PG-13
Date : January 6, 2016

 

 

This review was posted on January 7, 2017, in Drama.