G4 Film Review: Jackie – 7/10

Natalie Portman steals the show in Pablo Larrain’s latest feature production

“With all due respect, you were at the centre of it all Mrs. Kennedy, and I imagine it’s impossible to have any perspective from that vantage point, but I can assure you it was a spectacle.”

Unnamed Journalist, Jackie.

Jackie, from Chilean director Pablo Larrain and starring Natalie Portman as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, has found itself nominated for three academy awards at this year’s Oscar celebration. In the running for Best Lead Actress, Costume Design and Original Score, it could well see Portman secure her second academy win for a leading role, building on the huge success of the superb thriller Black Swan in 2010.

While not universally dazzling critics in quite the same manner as La La Land or Moonlight, what Larrain’s work boasts is a delicateness and attention to detail that propels it to the forefront of the collective cinematic consciousness of this year (last year, technically), although it’s focus in many ways stops it from ticking all the boxes necessary for a best picture nomination.

Portman herself, every bit deserving of the Oscar for her portrayal, delivers a staggering performance that not only takes it’s cues from footage of the First Lady, but runs with it in a way that never allows her to become overshadowed by the ghost of the source material. She mimics the unique and awkward gait and mannerisms of Kennedy flawlessly, drawing influence notably from Jackie’s videoed White House restoration tour, which features as part of the flashback sequences, interspersed with her talking to a journalist (unnamed but alluded to be Theodore H. White, played by Billy Crudup) in present day. Lifting and modernising scenes from the tour, Portman and Larrain bring an undercurrent of intensity to her reproduction, subverting the smallest of micro-expressions and working in them deftly into the arc.

While much of her performance hinges on subtle gazes and implied meaning, when Natalie Portman speaks it is with well rehearsed bereavement and authenticity, tightrope walking grief and pique while staying faithful to the undemonstrative poise required when maintaining the highest office in America. Using White’s 1963 feature in LIFE Magazine as an anchor, Jackie lifts and expands on written sentences to flesh out what was already public domain into something much more human. Jackie Kennedy in this occupies many spaces all at once; mother, widow, victim of infidelity, First Lady, materialist, perfectionist, a woman dispossessed. It’s not a full biopic, and it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t need to beat you over the head by indulging in obvious despair, or lose itself in nostalgic childhood orientated digression, because that isn’t the story. The story is of the lady behind the Camelot myth, who had to hold her husbands head together in the back seat of a Lincoln Continental, covered in blood as it sped away to safety. The wife of a president assassinated and the mother of his children, who in the hours and days that followed had to endure the full force of the pressures of procedure, press and lamentation.

The obvious artistic license taken when covering someone so reclusive after the events of that day in Dallas is stark, and perhaps that’s why there’s such a degree of sensitivity taken to not delve too deeply, largely the film avoids making a judgment of any kind on policy and politics, Kennedy himself only features in a handful of scenes, usually from behind or profile. Mentions are made of Cuba, Vietnam and communism, Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy both feature as supporting characters (Bobby played by Peter Sarsgaard, who also starred with Portman in Zach Braff directorial debut Garden State). However the supporting cast in this will sadly not be remembered for any show stealing performances, this really is a one woman show. Even the late John Hurt takes a sideline to the very singular focus of the film.

To call Jackie a one trick pony perhaps wouldn’t be fair, because it does what it does well, and approaches its subject matter faithfully, with even it’s embellishments given a nod to on-screen; White to Jackie – “I’m guessing you won’t allow me to write any of that?” Jackie – “No, because I never said that.”. As recorded material from a first person source of the First Lady is sparse, the film relies largely on stretching the truths we do have into a pleasant fiction, which on it’s own makes for fantastic watching, but here’s also where the film may have under-reached if it wanted to hit a larger demographic.

At points it’s meticulousness and reliance on implication of a theme comes across as a little flat, it hints at the role of women in 60s society, even those who held a high standing, as we see Jackie get interrupted and her grievances ignored by the patriarchal figures cramming the halls of the Oval Office. It hints at the nature of fact becoming fiction, about the obfuscation of truths lost to time. It hints at making a comment on the concurrent dichotomy between philistinism and intellectual and historical value. It does all of this with light brush strokes so as not to defer attention from it’s leading lady. For some people though, this may fall short of the mark, leaving potentially so many open doors to narrative inquiry. Arguably because of the framing structure centered around the LIFE article, you only ever get to understand these motifs from the peripheries, but that’s very much the nature of the beast with so many snapshot biopics, and with Pablo Larrain as a director.

One thing Larrain does superbly is to capture forgotten stories of people who slip through the cracks of typical public exposure, alluding to further context by wringing the most out of day-to-day activities. Jackie is no exception.

His 2015 release El Club is the story of a crisis counselor sent by the Catholic Church to an isolated Chilean village, investigating an incident at one of the infamous hidden retreats the church sends institutional sex offenders to for repentance. Again it’s a film that heavily implies the gravity of it’s source material without continually stressing it, and from allowing us to see people as they would act without over-dramatisation. The catholic retreats are real places, Jackie Kennedy was a real woman, and both conjure up whirlwinds of thought and potential for exploration, but in Larrain’s world it’s very much something for the audience to approach on an extracurricular basis, or not, as they please.

Singular focus aside, Jackie is a success as a snapshot in time. Accompanied by a phenomenally disconcerting original score by Mica Levi (catch our full review of the soundtrack here), it manages to exist within a head space at once occupying a moving window into woman’s sorrow and a study of one of the most famous and revered personalities of her time.

If you’re looking for something broad or politicised, then this probably won’t be for you, but if you’re content with decent craftsmanship and execution, faithful and yet dramatised, then we strongly recommend giving Jackie a watch. As Crudup’s character mentions; “you left your mark on this country, Mrs Kennedy, these past few days. That’s the story… Decades from now, people will remember your dignity and the majesty, people will remember you”


– Max Colbert



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