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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Granger at the Movies: ‘Patriots Day,’ ‘Lion,’ ‘Jackie’

By Susan Granger

Special to WestportNow

Chronicling the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and its intense aftermath, “Patriots Day” is a heavy-handed, by-the-numbers action-thriller about a community responding to an act of terror.

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Assigned to duty on the finish line, feisty Police Sgt. Jimmy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg) has a sore knee so he phones his wife (Michelle Monaghan) to bring him his knee brace.

Meanwhile, two Muslim rebels, Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) Tsarnaev, are calmly making nail-filled bombs and loading them into their backpacks.

When the explosions occur, there’s graphic carnage and predictable pandemonium, as first responders rush to help, inadvertently separating families by dispatching victims to different hospitals.

Inevitably, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) clashes with the FBI’s Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) during the methodical four-day investigation and ensuing manhunt, particularly about when to release the terrorists’ photos to the media.

Jimmy Saunders seems to be everywhere; he’s obviously a composite character, superficially incorporating the heroism of several different Boston cops.

The most interesting participant is Dun Mengh (Jimmy O. Yang), the young Chinese immigrant who was carjacked by the Chechen brothers. Escaping from their clutches, he called 911, revealing the terrorists’ intention to take more bombs to New York and directing them to the shootout in Watertown.

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have previously collaborated on the far better “Deepwater Horizon” (2016) about the deadly oil explosion in the Gulf and “Lone Survivor” (2013) relating a Navy SEAL mission gone wrong. So they know the docudrama drill.

The film concludes with a shot of real-life survivor Patrick Downes, the first amputee to compete again in the Marathon, falling into the arms of his wife, who lost both legs in the bombings.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Patriots Day” is a sober, simplistic 6, concluding that tragedy can bring out the best in everyone.

In “Lion,”when five year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is accidentally abandoned in a railroad station, he gets on a train and falls asleep, traveling thousands of miles across India, far away from his family, left to fend for himself as an orphan on the streets of Kolkata (Calcutta).

That’s how he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime — one that takes him all the way to Australia, where he’s adopted by a loving couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham), growing up, safe and secure, in Hobart.

25 years later, guided only by fractured, fragmented memories and steadfast determination, adult Saroo (Dev Patel) discovers a technological phenomenon known as Google Earth, which leads him back to his long-lost village and a birth family he barely remembers.

Based on an astonishing true story, “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley (2014), it’s scripted by Australian poet/novelist Luke Davies and sensitively directed by Garth Davis. The result is spiritual without succumbing to sentimentality.

Diminutive Sunny Pawar exudes a charismatic vulnerability, and the guilt-conflicted resolve shown by Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) is raw, strong and powerful. Their performances are enhanced by Rooney Mara, as Saroo’s supportive girlfriend, and maternal Nicole Kidman.

The film’s secondary theme revolves around the unconditional love of an adoptive parent; the two mother-figures are the pillars that support the story — and there’s not one wrong note, look or line of dialogue.

More than 80,000 children disappear each year in India. So this story’s emotional and structural elements strike a basic, universal chord.

While much of the first section is in Hindi with English subtitles, it’s neo-realistic and immersive, transcending language barriers, since its primal appeal revolves around the search for family and identity. And the poignant credits pair the actors with their real-life counterparts.

On the Granger Gauge, “Lion” is a triumphant 10 — an intimate, uplifting drama.

In “Jackie,” directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, Natalie Portman creates a dazzling cinematic portrait of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

On Nov. 22, 1963, when U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Jackie was at his side in the Dallas motorcade. Shortly afterward, interviewed by an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup), she not only reveals her version of what happened but also cleverly crafts the catchy “Camelot” concept of her husband’s brief tenure.

“Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief shining moment, there was Camelot,” she quotes from JFK’s favorite Broadway musical, reviving the legend of King Arthur.

There are flashbacks to the former First Lady narrating a CBS-TV tour of the White House, pointing out her refurbishments, proudly pronouncing that none were paid for by taxpayers’ money. And much is made of how grieving Jackie micromanaged JFK’s funeral procession for maximum historical impact, patterning it after Abraham Lincoln’s.

A secretive chain-smoker, Jackie exhibited steely determination and sophisticated discretion, particularly when it came to her husband’s infidelities. So little is made of that. Nor is there any mention of her subsequent remarriage to Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis.

Constructed by Noah Oppenheim as an unsentimental character study, what’s most memorable is Natalie Portman’s authentic portrayal. Replicating Jackie’s posture, walk and whispery voice, Portman’s stunning impersonation crosses the threshold of credibility, aided by the bouffant hair style, glossy eye makeup and chic, meticulously reproduced wardrobe.

She’s supported by Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, John Hurt as an Irish Catholic priest and Max Casella as LBJ’s loyalist Jack Valenti.

On the Granger Gauge, “Jackie” is a solemn 7, propelling Portman into Oscar contention.


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( Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)

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Posted 01/11/17 at 12:21 PM



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