Jackie (2016, USA, d. Pablo Larrain, 96 Minutes)
by Noah Damron
Jackie truly surprised me. Not just with it’s amazing performances, beautifully crafted cinematography or superbly detailed production design, but by how unflinching and personal this film was. This is not any ordinary biopic, but a bold and ambitious character piece about one of America’s most famous First Ladies.
Unconventionally told in flashback by a still-grieving Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in an interview with an unnamed reporter (Billy Crudup), Jackie recounts the past several weeks starting just before her husband’s assassination. From then we’re treated to an almost dream-like presentation of a woman processing the death of her husband, dealing with depression-like symptoms and worrying about her family’s legacy, all while under the public eye.
In his English-Language debut, director Pablo Larrain delivers a character piece unlike any other, in what almost plays like a psychological horror film. In one of the earlier scenes, we see a broken and distraught Jackie alone in a bathroom after her husband had just been killed and normally we would get an overly dramatic moment with sweeping music, but here, Larrain places the camera front and center on Portman, in silence, as she breaks down both physically and mentally. Numerous scenes like that feel so raw, it feels as if we’re right there in the room. Scenes like Jackie taking off her blood-stained pantyhose or removing pieces of brain matter from her hair are so incredibly unnerving, it adds for a more personal and compelling experience. The intimacy in the direction and cinematography is wrenching.
Aiding in the films intimacy is the exquisite Cinematography by Stephane Fontaine. Shot in 16mm, the film maintains a beautiful grainy look to it that helps put you back into the 60’s without ever feeling artificial.
What also helps with the films authenticity is the impeccable production design. The period detail is absolutely top-notch with its flawless recreations of Jackie’s White House redecorations or that fateful day in Dallas, everything feels as authentic as possible.
The screenplay by Noah Oppenheim (The Maze Runner of all films) is sharply written and offers very poignant themes about death, grief, depression and legacy. And the score by Mica Levi (Under the Skin) is both hypnotic and unsettling.
Now none of the film would work without a strong lead performance and Natalie Portman does not disappoint. Natalie Portman further proves that she is one of the world’s top actors today and should not be taken for granted. Her portrayal as Jackie Kennedy did at first worry me as I could only see Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy instead of Kennedy herself, but as the film progressed, Portman faded and Kennedy emerged. She beautifully handles the complexity of Jackie as she goes toe-to-toe with several of her husband’s colleagues, her private meetings with a priest (John Hurt) and her friendship with her secretary (Greta Gerwig). This is one of the best performances all year! With so much of the film weighing on her shoulders, she manages to carry it with ease. Portman not only nails the voice, but just the simple mannerisms and how she carries herself. This a transformation that rings of Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln.
The only thing that holds this film back from being a true masterpiece is one noticeably bad performance from that of Peter Sarsgaard. Sarsgaard, who portrays Bobby Kennedy, is stuck between doing an awkward Bobby Kennedy impersonation and just playing Peter Sarsgaard. His accent comes and goes and Sarsgaard just never felt invested in the role, seeming sometimes bored. In a film surrounded by great performances, he sticks out even more and the scenes between him and Portman are more noticeably uneven. Thankfully he serves a side player.
Jackie is an extraordinary achievement. A film that manages to be so personal about someone everyone knows of. Natalie Portman gives an iconic performance in a film that measures up to her standards with beautiful period detail, excellent writing, a wonderfully moody score and a unique vision from director Pablo Larrain.