Power and Beauty
Showtime // R // $19.98 // November 4, 2003
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted March 7, 2004
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The Showtime original film Power and Beauty (2002) is an empty bio pic about beauty Judith Campell Exner (Natasha Henstridge) and the powerful men she claimed to have dalliances with, including JFK (Kevin Anderson), Frank Sinatra, and mobster Sam Giancana.

In the first few minutes Power and Beauty establishes a wildy uneven view of Exner and chooses to sway between two opposing viewpoints about who this woman is and why she chose high profile men to sleep with. A prime example is how she plays phone tag with a campaigning JFK, who essentially makes booty calls to try and get her to meet him while he is traveling. She shrugs him off, eventfully agrees to meet him, but, refusing to be a kept woman, she insists on paying for her plane ticket. Then in a hotel room hookup, she begins to play coy, using "I haven't seen you in weeks." for the reason she's cooled on his advances- yet a montage mere minutes before had her putting him at a distance.

And, so the film goes on, with scene after scene unable to decide if Exner was a stand alone, worldy woman who just so happened to get involved with powerful men or a shameless star fucker. How are we supposed to feel for someone who gets involved in affairs that seem pretty doomed from the outset with men either already committed, commitment phobic, or just generally living lifestyles that aren't going to lead to the ideals she wants? The relationships are unclear, once again, always taking some wildly contrasting views between them being serious and heartfelt or just flings. She meets Sinatra through her first, failed marriage to actor Billy Campell. Everything is fine, she seems to treat it casually not letting Sinatra's fame get in the way of her independence, but she is horrified and hurt when he tries to get her to have a three way. So, as a viewer you don't know what to feel, at first we're told she's not too invested in it, and then we're supposed to feel her hurt as the famous crooner breaks her heart.

So, maybe she was a stand up gal who made stupid decisions in her love life. This film finds no gray area in-between and presents these two aspects as polar opposites. The film is unwilling to condemn, praise, or find any middle road.

Power and Beauty was directed by Susan Seidelman, best known for Desperately Seeking Susan, Making Mr. Right, and She Devil. And, if Seidelman and the writers clearly couldn't decide just who Exner was, Henstridge had an uphill battle she could never win. Henstridge is pretty bank, on one hand saddled with a script that can't decide who this Exner woman is and on the other probably incapable of selling any realism or nuance in the first place. Distractingly, the actor playing Sinatra appears to be about thirty years too old for the part. Coming out relatively unscathed, Kevin Anderson wisely just acts instead of focusing on all the JFK mannerisms and the kind of mimicry that can make a performance fall into unintentional comedy.

The DVD: Showtime

Picture: Standard full-screen, 1.33:1. It all falls into the average, obviously made for tv range with capable production values but nothing particularly stunning. Color details, sharpness and contrast are all okay, though seemingly a tad washed out and not as crisp as you'd expect such a recent feature to have.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Dolby 2.0, or Spanish Mono audio options. Sound quality is good. Dialogue is strong, clear and present, and the music is nice and full. It is not a film of car crashes or action, so the mixing is all in the simple things, the subtleties, so it is pleasing but not really impressive.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Interviews (each under 2 mins) with actors Natasha Henstridge and Kevin Anderson--- Filmographies--- Photo Gallery.

Conclusion: I barely knew who Judith Campell Exner was before this film, and after watching it I still have no idea who she really was or why she spent the 60's hopping from bed to bed of influential famous lovers. I fail to see how the film would enlighten people interested in her or the 60's time frame and figures she was involved with. The DVD is fair enough material, rental worthy, but I'd say you're better off just casually catching it on Showtime and that's about it.

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