Director: Pablo Larraín
Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Runtime: 100 Minutes
The cinematic heritage of America’s first media-savvy First Family is stained with the traits of a Hallmark Channel susceptibility of historical moments and beats to fulfil. But Jackie, directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín, challenges this fallacy by shrinking the tragedy of JFK’s assassination down to a smaller, more intimate scale.
The narrative framework is explored through the famous Life magazine interview with Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), working its way back through Jackie Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) memories in a misty manner that sees the before, during and aftermath of the incidents in question, primarily focusing on the final days of her position as First Lady. This is not a film that’s propelled by narrative, so much as it’s driven by the sensation and experiences of singular moments - large and small - which encapsulate the greater whole of the person it’s depicting.
We see the signature events of history play out before us, from a violent revisitation of the assassination, to the display of the procession, but all the while the frame is focused on Jackie as the noise plays in the background. Larraín’s decision to shoot much of the film in close-up emphasizes the human strain of the situation, demystifying the glamorously composed legend of Jackie Kennedy and presenting something far more complex and compellingly human. His integration of archive footage and replication is astonishingly detailed and immersive, building off of his work previously seen in 2013’s No, and Stéphane Fontaine’s crisp digital photography is desiderated and distanced enough to maintain this aesthetic.
To no surprise at all, Natalie Portman is amazing at channelling the frustration and turmoil of someone who is processing the grief of not only the loss of a husband, but the death of a life that she is no longer destined to lead. Robbed of the legacy that she feels the Kennedy title deserves, she pours her efforts almost immediately into making a bloated spectacle of his funeral as a coping mechanism. This self-destructive behaviour reveals both the ego and the sorrow of a woman desperate no to be supplanted by a system that is already looking to move on. Her obsession with designation and decorum is carried through Portman’s performance in every stroke; from her Long Island inflection and stoic motion, to those moments of emotional collapse as she wipes her partner’s blood from her face. This disparity cuts deeper as we see her touring the White House as the show woman forced to smile as the cameras roll around her, her continued performance, in reality, a symptom of the burden of her role.
The supporting performances are remarkable; Peter Sarsgaard as the accommodating Bobby Kennedy is ghostly in composure, Greta Gerwig’s Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman is solid as a rock, and Billy Crudup helps to act as the audience's voice of cohesion against Jackie’s verbal games. John Carroll Lynch, Richard E. Grant and John Hurt all bring enough to their minor roles to keep them compelling – although the latter’s role as the priest she confides in consists of some of the films baggiest scenes.
Jackie is a far more daring and aesthetically divergent work than the awards contender it is being marketed as. Its compelling enough in its remarkably thoughtful screenplay, but it’s the explorative structure and artistic restraint – paired with Mica Levi’s haunting score – that makes this more than just a mandated showcase for Portman’s considerable talents.