The Professional 1994 Directed by Luc Besson. An English language French action thriller in which young Natalie Portman makes her film debut. Italian hitman Léon (Jean Reno) is quiet and solitary in his personal life until 12 year-old neighbor Mathilda Lando (Natalie Portman), who he’s met just once, runs to his apartment for shelter after her entire family is murdered by corrupt DEA agents led by addict Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman).
When she discovers what Léon does, the girl asks to be trained so that she can avenge her little brother. At first he thinks it would be easier to kill her, then he takes to the girl and lessons start. Man and child develop a curious relationship. (Nothing untoward.) She secretly purloins guns, goes out to kill Stansfield, and is rescued by Léon with more bloodshed. (Lots of violence in this film.)
In retaliation, Stansfield later captures her. Again, Léon gets her out but this time is cornered by his enemy. Mathilda wants to take his place. A counterintuitively engrossing film if you can get past the bloodshed. With Danny Aiello and Ellen Green. “As visually stylish as it is graphically violent” – Mark Deming from AllMovie. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Closer 2004 Based on the play by Patrick Marber. Directed by Mike Nichols. Newly arrived in London, American Alice Ayers (Natalie Portman), meets struggling writer, Dan Woolf (Jude Law). They become lovers. A year later at a book party for Dan’s career-changing biography of Alice, he meets photographer Anna Cameron (Julia Roberts). They’re attracted. He wants to have an affair. Alice overhears the proposition. Anna says no. In a cybersex chat room, Dan meets dermatologist Larry Gray (Clive Owen) and pretends to be Anna. He sets up a meeting between them.
Anna and Larry realize they’ve been pranked and by whom. They nonetheless become a couple. All four characters end up cheating on their lovers with one another evoking a lot of sophisticated confrontation and some serious consequences. Well written, well acted. Dark. Like the play on which it is based, the film is interpreted by some as a modern and tragic version of Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte, with references to the opera in both the plot and the soundtrack. Clive Owen garnered the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Other Boleyn Girl 2008 Adapted from Philippa Gregory’s novel. Directed by Justin Chadwick. A fictional account of the lives of 16th-century Mary Boleyn, once mistress of King Henry VIII, and her sister, Anne who became the king’s ill-fated second wife. Politically fairly accurate, personally sheer conjecture. Great to look at. One does get a feeling of the tenuousness of court life and its hierarchy, the bargaining power of sex, jealousy, and betrayal. With Scarlett Johansson as Mary Boleyn, Eric Bana as Henry VIII; Jim Sturgess, Kristin Scott Thomas, Mark Rylance, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anna Torent. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Black Swan 2010 Directed by Darren Aronofsky. A gripping psychological horror film. The New York City Ballet is mounting a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Artistic Director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) has decided to cast one dancer in the roles of White Swan Odette and Black Swan Odile, polar opposites in attitude and movement. Twenty-eight year-old Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) auditions. She’s wonderful as the pure, innocent swan, but terrible as the sensual dark one. Thomas tells her to observe new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), for the qualities she lacks.
Nina’s entire life is the ballet. She pushes herself till her feet bleed. The young dancer starts to hallucinate herself as a separate person. She goes out with Lily, takes drugs and is not sure what happened. Late to rehearsal, Nina arrives to find Lily playing Odile. She then discovers her competitor is sleeping with Thomas. Things escalate. The heroine has her moment but the story ends in tragedy.
Also with Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, professional dancer Benjamin Millepied – whom Portman would later marry. “…this movie is in so many ways an exploration of an artist’s ego and that narcissistic sort of attraction to yourself and also repulsion with yourself.” (Portman) Rent on Amazon Prime.
Jackie 2016 Directed by Pablo Lorrain. The film follows First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Grief is shared, interviews borne, the funeral planned. Jackie is not told of Lee Harvey Oswald’s murder, then finds out. She feels guilty for not having acted to protect the president and considers suicide. Only if you’re utterly fascinated with the woman. With Peter Saarsgard as Robert Kennedy, John Carroll Lynch as President Johnson, and Beth Grant as Ladybird, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Max Casella, Richard E. Grant…
Portman said she discovered two Jackies in her research, the public and private personas she endeavors to show. The actress trained to emulate her character’s speech. The film is “extraordinary in its piercing intimacy and lacerating in its sorrow.” (David Rooney- The Hollywood Reporter) Free with Amazon Prime.
Lucy in the Sky 2019 Co-Written and directed by Noah Hawley. Astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) has always been an overachiever. Mostly raised by her tough, opinionated Nana (Ellen Burstyn) who smokes while she’s getting oxygen (at home), Lucy pushes herself further and further. We first encounter her floating in space, an intoxicating experience after which no cadet remains the same. For Lucy, the afterward is like returning from a war zone where all senses were heightened and she felt most alive. Everything else pales. She hears mission command voices and imagines herself floating. Her only thought is to get back up there.
God fearing husband Drew (Dan Stevens), who also works at NASA, is kind, attentive, and patient. Divorced astronaut Mark Goodwin (John Hamm) asks her to bowl with another couple who have shared the space experience. Lucy finds herself drinking and letting off steam for the first time. She seeks Mark out and pounces on him. He’s only too happy to oblige. Exciting clandestine sex is to her a relationship, to him, interludes. The heroine leaves her husband only to discover her lover has taken up with her competition for a seat on the next flight. Lucy takes risks during training and becomes a stalker outside. She spirals out.
I disagree with negative reviews. The film is tense, compelling, and its premise, if not Lucy’s psychosis, is understandable. Portman is terrific. Space scenes are evocative and rather poetic. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Top photo: Bigstock