Directed by Pablo Larrain
Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
Hollywood's love affair with biopics generally culminates with a much-talked about performance amidst a hit-or-miss film. Pablo Larrain's Jackie salutes the legacy of famed First Lady Jackie Kennedy through the moments that sparked her celebrity and the days following her husband's untimely murder. Sparked by Natalie Portman's dedicated portrayal, Jackie is richly artistic and intrinsically tabloid in its approach to telling the story of American royalty.
Jackie Kennedy became a cultural icon almost immediately after becoming the First Lady. The wife of President Kennedy, her approach to matriarchy and socialite involved surprising changes in and among the status of the White House, from refreshing decor to nontraditional pleasantries. But, the lavish and celebrated lifestyle of America's first family was far from the intimate and evasive picture seen on the inside. Shortly after her husband is assassinated, Jackie meets with a writer to tell her version of the events on that fateful day and save the image of Camelot she had so carefully crafted and created.
Always seen in the public eye as someone with such poise and grace, it's Jackie's interactions with the writer that show her true backbone and sense of entitled power. Between draws on her cigarettes and the occasional allowance of a tear to trek down her cheek, Jackie is careful with her vulnerability, allowing her true feelings to show at only the most precise of times.
Following her journey through coming to terms with the limelight and how to use that fame to her advantage, Jackie soars in its structure and atmosphere. Shot in a style reminiscent of films from that era, the colors are muted in a way that feels as if each and every scene is something probably viewed over and over again. But, this new look at a well-known story is more fresh and new than your usual biopic. Beautifully built, director Larrain craftily builds a story that is just as quiet and intrinsic as it is loud, boisterous, and shocking.
Possibly the most unsuspecting element that works so well is the bombastic score by Mica Levi. Big, bold sounds help to balance the shell of a woman Jackie seems to be, behind the same big, bold personality driving each and every moment, especially after the assassination. While the rest of the world expects her to shy away, in mourning, she chooses to make JFK's funeral even bigger and more lavish than her previous White House exploits.
As Jackie, perhaps the most talked about aspect of the film is Portman's portrayal. From the raspiness in her voice to the most subtle of physical expressions, on the surface Portman excels. The gorgeous costumes on elevate an already mirror-like performance. But, too much of a good thing can sometimes fail to find its footing overall. There are moments that feel like we're watching real footage; Portman and Larrain's direction are that good. But, there are also moments when the the pillbox hat and perfectly paced dialogue feels more like a caricature than a character. This is never truer than when we see Jackie reach her ultimate, emotional peaks. Portman tiptoes so close to brilliance, it hurts that we never get a fully fleshed-out story, but instead are served campiness over cleverness.
Focused on an American icon, Jackie has moments that are completely beautiful, including some of the most captivating cinematography of the year. Pieced together as a historical drama and arthouse cinema, Jackie is worth a watch if only for the sake of seeing a different side to Camelot than is usually on display. It's stark and stunning in most of the exact right moments, especially in retelling the terror of that November day in Texas when JFK was shot. Never focusing on just that moment, Jackie becomes a film about power and grace instead of just a rehash of things we've already seen.
Runtime: 100 minutes