Saturday, December 03, 2005

Beautiful Girls - the preternatural Natalie Portman

A few years ago I stumbled across a film on cable TV, 'Beautiful Girls', one of those high school reunion films, and started watching it - it was not bad, and Timothy Hutton did a nice job of wandering about trying to figure out the world his character was fumbling forward through. Another character in the film was a 13-year-old neighbor, played by Natalie Portman, and I must say she blew me away. There are scenes in that movie I go out of my way to see again when it shows up on my TV screen - she was captivating as the slightly over-mature pre-teen who could capture the heart of a slightly confused and lost male.

Of course since then Natalie Portman has become a star. And I have to confess I have found her dull and uninteresting in her current roles (e.g. 'Closer') (though clearly a standardly attractive woman - akin to Kate Beckinsale, another actress I recognize intellectually as attractive, but who does nothing to trigger any of the natural responses in me).

Somewhere I read about a Luc Besson movie she had appeared in - and I just found it on cable television - here it is called 'The Professional', though apparently 'Leon' is another title. This is her debut film, and she was actually really only around 13 when she did the movie ('Beautiful Girls' comes a couple of years later). She is stunning - as is the rest of the cast - especially Jean Reno, one of my favourite actors. Again her character has a maturity beyond her years, and there is great humour that is drawn from this. Gary Oldman gets to play a completely corrupt policeman, and has a great confrontation with Portman.

I've seen some nasty rhetoric about this film; I do think that it stays on the right side of a tricky balance, featuring a character who is really a child, but aspiring to be an adult, especially with her Louise Brooks hairstyle, and foul mouth and sense of authority, wanting to learn to become an assassin. That the 13-year-old Portman could carry this off, and remain so sensible in so many ways is impressive (go read her IMDB biography to get rid of the easy notion that she is just exploited at this stage in her career).

It's a film that it is hard to imagine an American making.

Reno is a stunning actor. His vulnerability in this role, as a professional hit man, unable to defend himself against this precocious child, is wonderful to watch.

If you want to try him out I suggest 'Jet Lag', a film also doing the rounds on cable TV these days. He is wonderful in it as well.

As for Natalie Portman, my guess is I will find her this captivating again before too many years pass. I certainly hope so. I even have hopes for Kate Beckinsale.


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