Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What is next on my list? The Kennedys

The official White House
portrait of John F. Kennedy
by Aaron Shikler
Any person, who is over 16 years old, certainly has heard, at least once in their life, about John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It might be because of JFK airport, or they saw X-Men: First Class which reanacts the Cuban Missile Crisis; one could’ve seen the movie JFK starring Kevin Costner or simply read any history book ever printed. 
John F. Kennedy was the youngest president of the United States ever to be elected, and fourth president to be assassinated in office. His parents were Joseph Patrick and Rose Kennedy. He was the second oldest out of 9 siblings. His younger brother Bobby was his attorney general, he, after becoming senator for the state of New York, ran for the presidency too, but he too was assassinated. 
John Kennedy married Jackie Bouvier in 1953. They had 4 children. Their first child died in miscarriage, their second daughter Caroline is the last survivor of the immediate Kennedy family. Their third was a boy, JFK junior and finally another boy who died shortly after his birth (he was premature and his lungs hadn't formed properly). 
JFK is also known for not being eternally faithful to his wife; his mistresses include such names as Marylin Monroe.

Two years ago the History Channel ordered an 8 episode miniseries about the story of the Kennedy family. When the series was concluded I’ve heard two stories of why History Channel didn’t want to air it: the first version was that the series turned out to be too realistic and it showed an actual side of the family that is not so attractive anymore. The second debate was that it wasn’t truthful enough; instead it was more on the fairytale side. In the end History Channel aired the series just the same and it was nominated for several awards and Barry Pepper, the actor who played Bobby Kennedy won an Emmy for actor in a leading role. 

Now, please don’t take what I write down as actual historical facts because I am only writing what I’ve found out through the series. Not having done my research yet I do not know what is true, and what is not. However, my writing will contain major spoilers in regard to the series. Let us dive into:

What did I like about the series? If you have read my review about The Iron Lady (click here to read!), you know that there are two kinds of movies when it comes to true stories: those that give you a glimpse of a story and make you want to look the information up yourself and the other one is when they actually tell you everything in detail. The second one is usually a documentary. This implies that a movie or a miniseries can only be the first option, as in: we pick out certain moments from someone’s life and we focus on them. Those who know the historical figure on whom we are focusing, they will be entertained. If you don’t know them, only a bucket load of questions will be raised in your mind, and to 2 out of 5 you will never receive an answer. In the case of The Iron Lady the movie made me interested in detail about the life of Margaret Thatcher, I want to read her book, look up documentaries and so on. In the case of JFK I was simply pissed off. 

The story begins with their father's failure. He is trying very hard to get into the White House, without success, so he puts extreme pressure on his boys. His oldest son Joe dies in World War II, so it is up to John to take the lead. 
Each episode keeps jumping back and forth in time and I’ve found myself writing down dates, so I can actually keep track of what was going on. And even like this I couldn’t… My biggest problem was that I felt that John Kennedy was portrayed as an ass. According to the series, his dad was always unfaithful to his wife, she knew this but she didn’t leave him. So in summary it is a bit her fault if she wishes to stay and suffer. His brother Bobby has 11 children and he never cheated on his wife. While John sees that he is hurting Jackie, she is driving herself mad in order to be a perfect First Lady, to keep up the image people have created about her. And what does he do? He screws around. I didn’t get that. There is a total of three times when I’ve actually felt for Kennedy: he has problems with his back and he is obviously in pain; he has to deal with the missile crisis in Cuba and he misses Jackie who has seem to have left him along with their children; and when they lose their baby boy to premature birth.
Other than that, you first see him as this frightened little chameleon that is unable to move out from his father’s shadow, and then he turns into this badass and his administration and cabinet slowly starts to trust. He keeps treating his brother Bobby like “Mr. Fix it”, he has to take care of everything, and I mean everything, for example he is the one who has to break up with Marylin for him too. He keeps hurting Jackie even though in the series there was this moment of him coming to his senses: he is going to lose his wife unless he behaves, and I don’t know if that happened in real life, but it was a nice touch. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I never once felt sorry for him (you know, besides those three times). It might be that this is what is needed for someone to be a good president of such a big country, but that is no reason for me to like him more. That said, I want to point out that I’ve always found Greg Kinnear to be a marvelous actor and lately he didn’t star in everything that is worth mentioning. However, this performance was outstanding and it is no surprise that he was nominated for an Emmy too.

I am the kind of person who is highly influenced by an actor’s personal life. I shouldn’t be, because there are several cases where I don’t care, but when it comes to Katie Holmes I do. Which is funny, because even if I love 80’s Tom Cruise, I hate him now: and that brings on my hatred towards Katie. Anyway, no matter how much I wanted to hate her, she was wonderful in this series. She was by far my favorite. Every single emotion she had could easily be read on her face; she doesn’t use grand gestures which would make her over the top, instead she is very lady like and pulled back. Her voice doesn’t change much, but you can feel emphasis on certain words that in the grand total make you see quite clearly when she is upset, angry, happy or just plain disappointed. I always imagined Jackie Kennedy to be this way and Katie portrayed her perfectly, starting from her loyalty to her family all the way to the undying trust she had in her husband.

I don’t know what Joseph and Rose Kennedy were like in real life, but if they were offensive pain in the asses who managed to take away your will of living with every word that exits their mouths, then the performance by Tom Wilkinson and Diana Hardcastle was brilliant. I have a really hard time understanding how these two ever found each other, or why they got married, not to mention how they were able to fall in love in the first place… but they did. And there are even hints that these two love their children above all, but then they say something sooooooo wrooong and off and offensive that you just shout “ASSHOLE!” to the screen. 
Secondly, there were some really weird choices in casting, for example Marylin Monroe had two scenes, out of which one was awful, the other brilliant… I’m not sure what happened there. I loved the chemistry between Bobby and his wife Ethel, but all other scenes with Bobby were a bit forced. He was portrayed as this little bug that keeps biting everything and anything that dares insult his president brother, which in the long run portrayed John as someone unable to have any original ideas of his own and being constantly bullied in need of protection. You get the sense that Bobby wants to be the one who is in the position of leadership, even though initially we are told that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with John’s presidency. I understand that human beings keep changing their minds, but the series’ writers could’ve paid more attention to the shift from “don’t care” to “do care about it”. 
Even if the execution of the series was on the whole nicely done, the continues time jumps were a bit off. I usually like flashbacks, but this was a bit excessive. It is a very powerful way of storytelling, but if one simply cuts up the story lines and puts the pieces one after the other in whatever order, isn’t how one should approach a complex story such as this. I was also bothered by the fact that I felt that the series itself is not sure of what it is supposed to show. From certain angles it shows their personal life to be more important than the presidency (even if the two were influenced by the other); from another angle it resembles The West Wing (to read my review click here!) were the presidency as a job is more prominent. I was angry that they only selected a couple of storylines from the life of Kennedy, even if I understand that there was pressure on time. But they didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know, so you are only irritated that you thought you would find out more about the missile crisis for example and you didn’t!

The scenery is outstanding; the music is very powerful and one character can be annoying only if the actor is doing their job correctly in their portrayal, so yeah, the acting was fabulous as well. Do I have a lot of questions? Of course. But every time I see a movie or a series that is based on real life I get extra crazy because I want to know what is actual truth and what is simply a Hollywood move to entertain crowds. I feel the same way about The Tudors or Elizabeth: The Golden Age. In the end, I do believe that it is worth checking out this series. As I mentioned above, it might raise your interest in the subject. Me? Well, I have compared how much reading I would actually have to do to research what the truth actually is, and even then I might not find an answer to each of my questions, which is quite bothersome... so I'll just wait till 2028 when the FBI files from the JFK murders will become public and finish my studies on this subject then!

Until the next item on my list, which is: Hanna!
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

John Fitzgerald - Greg Kinnear
Bobby - Barry Pepper
Jackie - Katie Holmes
Joseph - Tom Wilkinson
Ethel - Kristin Booth

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