Cherokee Summer selects her Five Essential Natalie Portman Films…
With ear-deafening reviews flooding out of the festival circuit, praising Natalie Portman’s performance in Darren Aronofsky’s (The Wrestler) trippy, psychological thriller Black Swan (arriving on UK shores for its UK premiere at The London Film Festival in a few weeks), we take a look at Natalie Portman’s best roles to date and don’t worry – there will be no Star Wars prequels here.
5. Brothers (2009, dir. Jim Sheridan)
Portman’s most recent outing sees her playing Grace, the wife of Marine Captain Tobey Maguire (Sam) and the mother of their two children, Isabelle and Maggie. As Maguire is sent off to war, presumed dead, Portman is left to pick up the pieces, helped by Maguire’s wayward brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal). When things heat up between wife and brother, Sam returns, shaken by recent events in Iraq, and the family have to face up to the consequences of his actions.
Though overall Brothers reception was mixed, it is still a must-see. The three leads, particularly Maguire and Portman are a very much so believable couple, and it’s an agonising watch when Sam excuses Grace of having an affair with Tommy. Kudos also should be awarded to 10 year old Bailee Madison (Isabelle) who gives her fellow actors a run for their money, and is definitely one to watch; while a short, but sweet, portion of the film has a surprise appearance from BAFTA winning Carey Mulligan (An Education)
4. Closer (2004, dir. Mike Nichols)
Opposite A-list heavyweights Jude Law and Julie Roberts, Portman is the one who really gives Closer its depth as former stripper Alice, who after getting knocked down by a car, meets Jude Law (Dan), where the two form an odd relationship. While still seeing Alice, Dan meets Anna, (Julia Roberts), a photographer hired to take his picture for the back sleeve of a book he is about to publish. Even after a year, Dan remains smitten with Anna and jokingly pretends to be her when in an internet chat room speaking to Larry (Clive Owen). Giving the false impression the two will have sex, Dan tells Larry to visit the local aquarium (where Anna usually is) and so he does, resulting in him being made a fool of the next day. Least suspecting to Dan, Larry and Anna hit it off and they both begin a relationship together.
Closer takes a darker road, documenting the lies, cheats and scandals of the four’s relationship’s and friendships with one another. Law, Roberts and Owen’s characters struggle to stand their ground against Portman’s sensitive take on Alice, the only one of the four seemingly capable to feel love. Where the others use the word casually, bouncing it back and forth, Alice remains adamant for her feelings for Dan, ignoring Larry’s advances. Closer scored Natalie’s first Oscar nom and rightfully so – she glides through the film with ease, with not an ounce of struggle in reading her (sometimes) weird dialogue.
3. Garden State (2004, dir. Zach Braff)
Zach Braff’s (yes, he of TV’s Scrubs) directorial debut surprised everyone. It was good. Really good. And actually funny. Aspiring actor Andrew ‘Large’ Largeman returns to his hometown from L.A after hearing the news of his mother’s death. Drifting in and out of consciousness at parties on his arrival back home, it’s only until the 26 year old meets Sam (Portman), an eccentric compulsive liar who takes life as it comes, where he begins to see the lasting effects of his childhood on him and his family and decides to hell with it, taking the reins on his own life that has been very much controlled by his father and the medicine he has been prescribed since he was a child.
Supporting Braff and Portman, Peter Saarsgard is Andrew’s old school friend Mark, who along with Portman, give Andrew a new lease of life, and the chance to admit some home truths. In retrospect, Garden State at first sight could be looked upon as a typical comedy with a sprinkle of romantic incline, but it’s far from that. Helped by Portman’s Clementine-esque character (Kate Winslet’s role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Saarsgard’s quick witted grave-digger Mark, Garden State has a lot of charm and quirky humour, a far cry from Scrubs‘ comical delivery.
2. Léon (The Professional) (1994, dir. Luc Besson)
Luc Besson’s much-beloved action film, Léon (The Professional), marks Portman’s onscreen debut, as 12 year old hard nut Mathilda, who, after her family are murdered, takes refuge in her neighbour, Léon’s, flat who turns out to be just what she needed – a hit man. Convincing Léon into showing her the ropes, Mathilda vouches for revenge on dirty cop Gary Oldman (Stansfield), the man responsible for her family’s murder.
Jean Reno’s loveable and sweet Léon is suits the role perfectly, and the chemistry between Portman and Reno is wonderfully off beat. Like a father and daughter, they look out for each other, showing different sides of life they perhaps hadn’t bared witness to before. This is Luc Besson’s finest hour. Where in a lot of his work he loses sight of emotion for thrills and fantastically choreographed action sequences, Léon has it all – guns and heart.
1: Hotel Chevalier (2007, dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s much-talked about affectionate short film prologue to The Darjeeling Limited creates more sensitivity and honest documentation of a struggling relationship in its mere 13 minute running time then any Hollywood romantic drama could in 2 painfully long hours. Scenes between Portman and Jason Schwartzman are filled with a raw quality and uncomfortable heartache, and with little-to-no dialogue, the subtle changes in facial expressions are all that needs to be said, screaming an air of understated 70’s American acting that has long been forgotten.
Hotel Chevalier is a beautifully composed piece, and one of Anderson’s best. His signature colours of yellows and oranges meld perfectly with the interior of the hotel room and contribute to Portman and Schwartzman’s naturalistic acting.
A notable mention would be Natalie’s infectious rap on SNL, performed a couple of years back, but since that’s technically not a film, we couldn’t include it in the list, but we shall kindly link you to its glory. Beware; this is the uncensored version, so except bottle smashing and extensive swearing. You’ll be singing along to it in no time too…
Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments…