Jackie

Director: Pablo Larrain (2017) BBFC cert: 15

The grave of US president Kennedy is raked over once again in this well observed portrait of his widow, Jackie.

Natalie Portman brilliantly fleshes out the  First Lady’s steely and shrewd ambition, presenting her as a chain smoking, perfectly poised and prickly coquette.

In the fear and chaos in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination in November 1963, everyone around her is jockeying for power.

Having lost her husband, house, status and income, Jackie must act quickly to secure her husbands – and her own – legacy.

She conducts an one to one interview with a journalist, played with an out of his depth curiosity by Billy Crudup.

Jackie claims the meeting is her attempt to put the record straight, but it’s really to ensure her version of the truth is the one which will last.

The script is scathing about the importance of stage craft, celebrity and media control in sustaining public power. The shooting is astutely and sensitively  handled, we feel Jackie’s horror even as she becomes the most famous bystander in history.

A mournful, unsettling study, it’s as cold, calculating, complex and compelling as its subject.

@ChrisHunneysett

Jane Got A Gun

Director: Gavin O’Connor (2016)

Since winning her best actress Oscar for ballet based drama Black Swan (2010), Natalie Portman’s career has been noticeably quiet.

In this small time western with occasional epic leanings, she’s back with a bang as Jane, a pistol packing farmer.

The genre that refuses to go to boot hill is on a decent run. Not just with high profile recent Oscar winners The Revenant (2016) and The Hateful Eight (2016) but also taut tales such as Mads Mikkelson’s The Salvation (2015) and Kurt Russell’s Bone Tomahawk (2016).

Jane Got A Gun is a blend of genre motifs and contemporary hot topics, offering a tale of revenge, rape, infanticide and sex trafficking among ranches, brothels and shoot outs.

Considering its troubled production history it’s remarkable how competent and coherent the finished film is.

In May 2012, it was announced that Natalie Portman would star in the film as the title  Lynne Ramsay would direct. Michael Fassbender was reported as cast in the hero role and Joel Edgerton was cast as the villain.

Scheduling conflicts lead to Edgerton replacing Fassbender and Jude Law stepping into Edgerton’s boots. When director Lynne Ramsey was replaced by Gavin O’Connor, Law was replaced first by Bradley Cooper and then by Ewan McGregor.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji also left the production, and was replaced by Mandy Walker. And rewrites followed.

Jane is saddled with grief, a dirt poor farm and a wounded husband Ham, the underused Noah Emmerich.

Her gun is a mumbling Joel Edgerton who plays Jane’s alcoholic war hero and ex lover.

Their personal chemistry is no more lacking than any other relationship in the film.

Jane employs Dan as protection from Ewan McGregor’s pantomime villain, a notorious outlaw who has vowed to kill Ham.

As Bishop’s scurvy faced posse arrive for revenge, the dead bodies mount up alongside the spare horses.

The familiar narrative has a strong through line, even if some of the scenes fit awkwardly together.

There are some splendidly cinematic sweeping vistas and agreeable rough and rugged design.

But there’s a lack of chemistry and though the climax doesn’t fire blanks, it never quite hits the emotional targets it’s aiming for.