Written by Matt Taylor
Jackie Plot Summary:
After the assassination of JFK, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) must not only deal with the trauma and grief of losing a husband, but also how to console her children, and help define her and her late husband’s legacy.
Whether it be through history classes or movies like JFK, we all know the story of the Kennedy assassination and the political turmoil that followed. But all these accounts leave out one key viewpoint – that of Jackie Kennedy. Pablo Larraín attempts to explore the impact the assassination had on the former First Lady, setting his film, Jackie, during the week after the assassination. This is not your average biopic. Larraín takes his viewers on a journey through the grieving process, blurring genres between biographical drama and psychological horror film. Jackie tries to come to terms with her husband’s death, ensure his legacy and figure out her place in the world outside of the White House.
At a brisk 95 minutes, Jackie avoids a traditional narrative structure, instead electing to bounce around through time. It shows the titular woman at various key moments throughout the aftermath of the assassination. We see her in counseling with a priest (John Hurt). She speaks with her loyal assistant (Greta Gerwig) about her transition from the White House into the “real world.” We see her being interviewed by an unnamed reporter (Billy Crudup). She also tries to plan a grand funeral for her husband. Despite the lack of a lineal timeline, the film’s masterful editing allows the story to unfold in a way that makes sense, with the overall mood of the scenes being grouped together. For long stretches, there is an overwhelming sense of sadness. In other scenes, there’s a sense of anger, as Jackie works out her complicated emotions about her husband. There’s even a hint of optimism, as she tries to remember the good her husband did for the country.
Much will be made of Natalie Portman’s performance, and with good reason. This is one of Portman’s strongest performances, requiring her to step into the shoes of perhaps the most iconic First Lady, while also carrying the entire film. While Portman may not be a dead ringer for Jackie, she more than inhabits her sense of class, polished mannerisms and her unmistakable voice. Whenever Jackie Kennedy finds herself alone, Portman really shines. She shows how unhinged the First Lady becomes after her husband’s death, and the way she stands up to the men trying to decide what to do with her in the wake of the crisis. With multiple monologues and a wide range of emotions to show, Portman essentially has a highlight reel’s worth of Oscar worthy clips.
The real star here is Pablo Larraín, whose direction is absolutely stunning. Filmed mostly in close ups, he makes the viewer feel uncomfortably close to the action, almost as if they’re eavesdropping on the characters. He also directs Portman’s monologues. They play in a montage of footage in such a way that they feel like a stream of consciousness, combining the stylized camerawork of Terrence Malick with the intense paranoia of Roman Polanski. While the nonlinear style in which the story unfolds could have felt hectic and overstuffed, editor Sebastián Sepúlveda seamlessly transitions from scene to scene. At times he even incorporates historical footage, weaving a narrative out of the many different story threads.
Composer Mica Levi helms a gorgeous, violin-heavy score that sounds completely unlike any other score this year. While it might not feel natural at first, it perfectly captures the mood of each scene, and eventually stands out as one of the most memorable aspects of the film.
In lesser hands, Jackie could have been a serviceable, if not all that memorable biopic. It really doesn’t feel like a biopic at all. It’s an examination of a woman having the worst week of her life and trying to come out on top. It’s also a portrait of America during one of its most chaotic moments, and a film that examines the differences between someone’s private thoughts and public persona. It might not be an accurate depiction of what Jackie Kennedy’s life was like at that given moment, but it’s a film that depicts her as a complicated, sympathetic, powerful and ultimately human figure. It gives her a film that will be far more revered than any traditional drama.
Overall Rating: 10 out of 10