Movie Review: “Jackie”

Starring
Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Director
Pablo Larraín

“Jackie” is a breath of fresh air for a biopic. Unlike other films in the subgenre, this isn’t a series of CliffsNotes or the greatest hits of a former first lady’s life, but rather an entirely subjective, visceral, upsetting and sometimes beautiful experience. Director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim have crafted a dazzling 99-minute drama.

For the most part, Oppenheim’s script focuses on Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) following the assassination of her husband and President of the United States, John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), which we experience via a framing device where Jackie tells her side of the story to a journalist (Billy Crudup) about what occurred and what she was feeling at the time. She’s surrounded by people throughout most of the movie – brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), Social Secretary and close friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), a priest (John Hurt) and Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant), to name a few important figures – but she’s portrayed as deeply alone and hurting, and Larraín and Portman make that pain tangible. She has to go from trying to pick up her husband’s brain, to witnessing Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) be sworn into office, to then trying to arrange a funeral that’ll help maintain her husband’s legacy.

No stone goes unturned in Oppenheim’s script. What would Jackie feel like first coming home without her husband? How does she explain to her two young children what happened? What would she do on her last night in the White House? All these moments hit the audience like a ton of bricks, one after the other. The way Larraín holds the camera on Portman’s face, as well as other characters, makes it impossible to look away even during the most painful of moments.

When Jackie is confiding in a priest, she discusses how men look at her now compared to how they used to. That line echoes throughout the whole movie. A decent amount of “Jackie’s” drama comes from characters simply looking at each other, expressing their frustration, sorrow, horror or empathy, mostly towards Jackie’s direction. There’s one shot of Bobby Kennedy looking at Jackie in his office, where he looks drained of color and all life, that’s just haunting.

Bill Walton claims the whole world has gone mad, and in how Larraín portrays it, it has. Mica Levi’s (“Under the Skin”) score, for one, sounds like something out of a horror movie, perfectly capturing the horrors Jackie undergoes in such a brief amount of time. Levi’s score makes Jackie’s internal pain all the more tangible.

Natalie Portman is invisible as Jackie Kennedy from the very first frame. Kennedy impersonations have been done to death, whether on film or at a bar, but not for a second does Portman’s performance ring false. Her accent never falters or screams of an impersonation. More importantly, though, there’s just an immediacy to her work, and the same goes for every other actor in the film. Larraín creates an unnerving – and sometimes even beautiful – atmosphere that the actors naturally inhabit without any tricks. Even when the camera isn’t on Jackie, look at the characters surrounding her and their faces (especially Bobby’s), because they will tell a story. “Jackie” is about as far from a wax museum as you can get.

  

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