Monday, January 9, 2012

Series Review: The Kennedys

"America's royal family."  This is what both critics and friends of the highly esteemed American dynasty call one of the most famous political clans in our nations history.  The story surrounding the Kennedys is in one sense legendary and in another sense disturbing.  There is much we do not know about them, especially in respect to their association with some organized crime figures in the late 50's and early 60's.  What we do know about them is that they were anything but ordinary; theirs is a family that was ridden with deceit, ambition, trust, mistrust, and tragedy.  There have been numerous movies made about certain members of their family, most notably John (Jack) F. Kennedy and Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, but none have truly caught the mystifying and intriguing existence of a family whose very name is now linked with greatness.

There is really no good place to begin when trying to list the accolades this mini-series deserves.  The story begins with Joseph Kennedy's sons being influenced from a very young age to fulfill their father's dream of being President of the United States.  Not much detail will be given in this review in relation to the story, for it is a story that anyone can find in any American History book.  Deserving of mention, and incredible amounts of praise, is the acting done by each and every member of the cast.  Greg Kinnear plays Jack Kennedy, the youngest elected President of the United States, and does so with amazing dedication to the accent and mannerisms of the former leader of the free world.  He plays the upstanding political leader the world saw on camera with great mastery, but also plays the lying, cheating, womanizer that few people ever saw (though most people knew or assumed, including his wife).  When watching him give speeches, one has to do a double take to make sure that it is Greg Kinnear portraying Jack Kennedy and not the President himself.

Perhaps the most impressive acting job in this series is the accomplishment of Barry Pepper successfully capturing the voice and attitude of Robert Kennedy, Jack's younger brother and his administration's Attorney General.  While he does not look like Robert Kennedy in any way, he talks with his exact voice and carries himself in the same way that Kennedy once did.  Particularly powerful are the scenes where he defends Jack to the rest of the cabinet when the Bay of Pigs turned out to be a failure, the scene where he breaks off Jack's relationship with Marilyn Monroe for him, and the touching scenes with his wife and children.  Unlike his brother, Robert was presumably a faithful husband who always tried to put his family first.  There are a couple instances where the mini-series focuses on the two families and show the two wives discussing what has made one marriage work and the other fail.

Any person who is a fan of the Godfather movies will immensely enjoy the way this story is told.  Just as the Godfather movies portray the rise and fall of a New York crime family, the Kennedy mini-series beautifully portrays the rise and fall of America's most famous political family.  The script-writers and director did a marvelous job at spacing out the story to take up just eight episodes in such a way that I was disappointed when it ended.  It is like reading a captivating book: you know it is going to end, but you enjoy the journey so much that when the end comes you are disappointed.  It is even more so in this series because you know how it is going to end: with the assassinations of Jack and Bobby.

As I watched this series, I could find not weakness.  Even Katie Holmes, who has drawn much criticism from me in the past, was an amazing Jackie Kennedy.  I do not know if I can think of such a strong performance from a leading female character.  The scene where she is sitting in the hospital in her blood stained dress after her husband was killed with simply gut-wrenching.  The entire presentation of Jack Kennedy's assassination and the events that followed were more powerful than I could have imagined them being presented.  As one who was not alive at the time, I felt a deeper connection to the events watching them in this series than I did from watching archived footage.  It takes a special series to do that, to make history come alive for those of us who could not witness it.  Very rarely does a series do that, and when it does, well, it is really something special.

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