Saturday, 9 April 2011

On 9.4.11 by KieronMoore in ,    No comments
A biopic of John F. Kennedy starring Greg Kinnear should not be bad. He's an Oscar nominated (if you've not seen As Good as It Gets, see As Good as It Gets) actor with an appearance very similar to JFK. 1960s American culture is stylish and fashionable, as Mad Men has shown. It would be a remarkable feat to bugger this up.

Yet this latest American import, The Kennedys, being shown on the History channel, has somehow managed to do so. Although Kinnear (along with Tom Wilkinson and Barry Pepper) is clearly a talented actor, his skills are wasted as he churns out poorly written, cliché-ridden dialogue.

November 8, 1960 is the setting for the first episode, as Senator Kennedy awaits the results of the presidential election. His family's past is revealed in a series of dull flashbacks - these are brought in with a sound effect so bad it must have been added ironically and are depicted, because it's the early 20th century, in a hideously vomitus-inspired colour palette.

While the main performances are all strong, especially Wilkinson as John's father Joe Kennedy, Sr, many of the supporting actors give painfully wooden performances. In some cases, though, I feel I have to let them off and blame the writer or director - those playing the audiences of two speeches Kennedy makes in his political campaign, for example, must surely have realised the overly ridiculous nature of their actions. He hesitates too much on his first speech, everyone shakes their heads wildly in dismay. He opens up about his dead brother to the Gold Star Mothers, the applause that follows is more crazed than at a Justin Bieber concert.

By far the most irritating element of The Kennedys is the music. Oh, the music. It won't stop. Why won't it stop? Every scene, every insignificant little conversation, the same excessively dramatic piece of music. It's the kind of soaring music that glorifies American politics in an annoyingly über-patriotic manner. This crass American flag waving is also notable, quite literally, in the flag being waved around in the cringeworthy title sequence (accompanied by that music again, of course), as well as the colours of the US flag being used for the on-screen captions that show up every three minutes to tell us it's still 1960.

Greg and Barry were enjoying this job until the composer played them his work. All 8 episodes of it.

The influence of the American History network is noticeable, as historical facts are crammed into every line - educational, perhaps, but from a dramatic perspective, the density of the historical references feels more forced than the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots. The problem here is that The Kennedys jumps through so many events in a steadily fast pace, without giving the viewer time to connect with the characters and, well, care. These events could be interesting if we spent a bit more time following the characters and their emotions rather than moving objectively on to show some more facts for us to forget (Mad Men, in comparison, gets this right - watch that for a mix of good character drama with a historiographical look at 60s culture and events).

Looking at The Kennedys like this, it may be the kind of programme that, in a few years time, will litter every school's history department in dodgily recorded onto DVD form for when the teachers want an easy lesson. However, I doubt many left-oriented history teachers in America will want to show this to their students - despite some scenes showing JFK's idealism, the Kennedy family, especially Joe Sr, are portrayed as ambitious, power hungry schemers. I'm not sure how accurate this is, but many took offence to this in the States, leading their History network to decide not to show it.

But really, I must question whether they really made this decision based on politics. Perhaps they looked at The Kennedys and realised that, taking two Oscar-nominated actors, a powerful political dynasty and an exciting time of great change that's currently a fashionable setting, it is indeed possible to produce an utterly cack-handed wadge of tedium.


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