Jackie review: Natalie Portman creates an intimate portrait of the former first lady in Pablo Larrain’s stunning motion picture.
Read our Jackie review below.
Awards season is in full swing, so what better time to release a retelling of the assassination of JFK than just a few weeks before the Oscars. Well planned timing may help a film bag a nomination or two, but cast Black Swan star Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy…well, you’re bound to win something – and boy, does she deserve all the Best Actress noms this year.
Not so much a biopic as a record of the aftermath of President John. F Kennedy’s murder, Jackie sees Portman step into the patent pumps of the seemingly quiet, unassuming Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Kennedy: First Lady, mother, and now widow. Known for her impeccable tailoring and iconic hairstyle, she’s aware that many see her as – as she puts it – just a ‘silly debutante’, something for the President to show off on his tour of the country. However, after the President’s assassination during a visit to Dallas, Jackie is left to cement John’s legacy because, as his reported favourite musical number trills, ‘For one brief, shining moment, there was a Camelot’.
Opening on the aftermath of that fateful day in November 1963, the chronology of the narrative swaps between the shooting, the events directly afterwards (Portland’s Jackie watching John Carroll Lynch‘s Vice-President Johnson be sworn in whilst her husband’s body lies in a coffin nearby is nearly as heartbreaking as seeing the actual photo taken at the time), the funeral planning, and Jackie’s intimate meeting with The Journalist, played by Billy Crudup. While the story may jump from moment to moment, so does Portman; stunned, sitting across from her brother-in-law Robert ‘Bobby’ Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), the coffin, draped in the American flag, between them; the next, cigarette in hand, cutting down The Journalist’s prying questions, firmly letting him know that she’ll be editing everything he jots down before he leaves her house.
Whether that’s the power of Portman herself or the real, unreported personality of Jackie muscling it’s way through, it’s hard to tell. Those unaware of the ‘real’ Jackie may be surprised by the anger, the passion, the spirit revealed as she responds to The Journalist’s queries, chain-smoking, hair as perfect as ever, but it’s a welcome surprise; she deeply loved President Kennedy and she’ll do anything to honour him. Natalie’s portrayal is so studied and finessed, the real shining star of the film. So elegant, poised, practised, a role she should truly be proud of.
Despite knowing what happened, Pablo Larrain still manages to create a tense, gripping drama. The camera follows Portman from room to room, acting as her shadow, picking up the smallest of changes in facial expression. Clever reveals (Larrain keeps the camera in mid-shot after ‘the event’, pulling backwards to reveal the bloody mess of Jackie’s Chanel skirt only after she returns to The White House) and uncomfortable framing (a close-up on Natalie’s face, smeared in congealed blood, tears streaming; the slight low angle, placing the coffin in the centre of the frame, Jackie and Bobby either side) only add to the emotion. While this isn’t a ‘melodramatic’ drama, it certainly reminds us that this actually happened to a real person, not just a character written into the story.
This isn’t just any old biopic. Jackie is a touching retelling of a wife’s heartbreak, and the hard work she put into establishing a history for her family, for her husband. Her intention was that America would never forget. They certainly didn’t, and this film proves it.
Jackie review by Jazmine Sky Bradley, January 2017.
Jackie is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th January, 2017.