★★★★☆ – Natalie Portman’s powerhouse performance runs the gamut of emotions in this deeply affecting and honest portrayal of the former First Lady.
Watching Jackie is not a straightforward experience. It is not a film that sets out to people-please. Director Pablo Larraín has made a compelling, auteurist piece of art house cinema rather than the mainstream, style-over-substance film it could have easily been.
If there were any misplaced doubts on what the film’s focus would be, leave them at the screening room doors. The emphasis is firmly placed on the title character, so much so that one of the handful of shots showing JFK, who is after all the catalyst for the film’s premise, only offers a glimpse of the side of his face. The cinematography plays a large part in this – Larraín’s decision to merge the film with real, archive footage from the era is played to great effect. It is often hard to tell what is re-created and what isn’t.
The non-linear storyline is just one of the many ways Larraín throws the audience off balance, not always to in a desirable manner. Cutting between an interview with a journalist – smoothly played by Billy Crudup – and various timelines that include the aftermath of JFK’s death and the taping of Jackie’s televised White House tour, can feel jarring and odd. Further adding to the confusion, the characters jump and switch to random positions mid-conversation, sometimes even moving rooms whilst continuing the same stream of thought. It’s a distracting technique, and whilst merit could be placed in it emphasising how bewildering the situation must have been, it borders on unnecessary.
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy is nothing short of magnificent – her Oscar nomination is well deserved. In a moment she can deftly display strength and intense vulnerability, all whilst perfectly imitating Kennedy’s famously affected voice. Particularly powerful is the reenactment of her televised White House tour: every mannerism is perfectly studied right down to her eye movements. It truly is a faultless performance, not least for the way it deals with representing the former First Lady, as the sum of many parts. She is powerful, strong, devastated, joyous and utterly broken in a way that reflects the true complexities of the human condition, and the way in which she handled herself whilst the world watched her intently.
The film dances around the actual assassination helped in part by the interrupted storytelling. Still, when it does happen, it serves as a shocking reminder of the brutality of the situation, and how psychologically scarring the final moments of her husband’s life must have been for Jackie.
For its faults, I was utterly captivated throughout the entire movie – tearing my eyes away wasn’t an option. The camera work, which contributes heavily to this, feels groundbreaking yet familiar. But overall, it is Portman’s performance, supported by such wonderful artists such as Greta Gerwig and Peter Sarsgaard, that makes Jackie as affecting as it is.
– Thomas Marrington