Movie reviews: Jackie, Lion, Split

Jackie 4/5

Movie reviews: Jackie, Lion, Split

Jackie (15A) opens in the wake of John F Kennedy’s assassination, when JFK’s widow Jackie (Natalie Portman) agrees to an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) at Hyannis Port in Massachusetts.

As the journalist probes Jackie’s carefully maintained façade, the story flashes back to the day of the assassination and its immediate aftermath, where we discover the real woman behind the media construct, as the distraught Jackie grieves, shields her children from the grisly truth, and begins the battle to preserve JFK’s legacy.

Written by Noah Oppenheim and directed by Pablo Larraín, Jackie is a thoroughly engrossing imagining of the tragedy that engulfed the Kennedy family.

Oppenheim offers an unsettlingly fractured storytelling, blending the interview format into dramatic reconstruction, historical footage, and a black-and-white recreation of the TV special in which Jackie opened the White House to the American people, with the result that any preconceived notions the audience might have about Jackie are constantly undermined and recalibrated.

Portman turns in a tour-de-force performance, her accent gratingly pitch-perfect as she embodies a woman who is by turns hard, brittle, cynical, and hopeful, and who frequently — and understandably — appears dislocated from reality.

She gets strong support from Peter Sarsgaard, playing Bobby Kennedy, and Greta Gerwig, playing Jackie’s confidante Nancy, but for the most part, Portman shoulders the movie’s considerable weight with aplomb.

There may well be a message for the incoming American president in the recurring theme of how harsh a judge history can be, but where Jackie truly scores is in its portrayal of a woman displaying uncommon grace under unimaginable pressure.

Based on a true story, Lion (PG) opens with five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) getting separated from his family and left to fend for himself on the teeming streets of Calcutta.

Plucked from an orphanage by Australian couple Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), Saroo (now played by Dev Patel) grows up a young man entirely at ease with being Australian — until a Proustian moment of remembrance sends Saroo on a voyage of rediscovery.

Adapted by Luke Davies from Saroo Brierley’s book A Long Way Home, and directed by Garth Davis, Lion is very much a film of two halves.

The first, in which young Saroo accidentally leaves his rural village and fights to survive in the big city, is a heart-breaking account of lost innocence, all the more so because of the quality of hard-edged realism Garth Davis brings to the story.

The second half, as Saroo begins to question his cultural heritage, and struggles with the idea of betraying his adoptive parents, is rather more sentimental in tone, although there’s no denying that the story fully earns the emotional pay-off at its climax.

Patel is in excellent form as the conflicted older Saroo, a decent man torn between doing two right things, and there are strong performances across the board, particularly from Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara, playing Saroo’s girlfriend Lucy.

That said, it’s the young Sunny Pawar who steals the show (and the audience’s heart) with a jaw-droppingly naturalistic performance as the pluckily resourceful five-year-old Saroo.

Written and directed by M Night Shyamalan, Split (15A) opens with three girls — Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula) — kidnapped in a parking lot by Kevin (James McAvoy).

Incarcerated in a purpose-built dungeon, they fear the worst, only to discover ‘Kevin’ is just one of their kidnapper’s personas, and that ‘Kevin’ suffers from dissociative identity disorder, a condition in which multiple personalities vie for supremacy.

It’s a grippingly off-beat set-up for a thriller, especially as the audience has no way of knowing which way the mercurial ‘Kevin’ is likely to leap next.

Unfortunately, once the director starts to slow things down to allow the exhilaratingly strange subplots to coalesce, it all starts to fall apart — virtually everyone in the city is on high alert for the missing girls, for example, with the notable, and very convenient, exception of Kevin’s counsellor, Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley).

Despite the glaring plot holes, however, Split offers two excellent performances that ensure the movie remains watchable: Taylor-Joy confirms that her superb breakthrough in The Witch (2015) was no flash in the pan, while McEvoy, always an impressively protean actor, is in mesmerising form as he brings to life what amounts to a small horde of chilling characters, while also managing to wring sympathy from the audience.

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