An unconventional if poignant character study on Jacqueline Kennedy that draws a haunting, lingering effect as if we are witnessing the intimate spectres of fragmented history flow resplendently back to life.
Dir. Pablo Larrain
2016 | USA | Biography/Drama/History | 100 mins | 1.66:1 | English & Spanish
NC16 (passed clean) for brief strong violence and some language
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Plot: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.
Awards: Won Best Screenplay (Venice); Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Leading Actress, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score
International Sales: IMR International
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 24 Feb 2017
We return to the early ‘60s when Jacqueline was a Kennedy, eased into a historical space and time by the wonderful performance of Natalie Portman, who never for one moment fail to convince that she’s ‘Jackie’.
Hers is one of the year’s best performances, almost a shoo-in for her second Oscar if not for the youthful energy of Emma Stone (backed by La La Land’s relentless awards momentum), and the daring and outright brilliance of Isabelle Huppert in Elle, both of whom are now considered frontrunners in a two-horse race, with Stone edging out in popularity.
Portman is blessed with costume designers who constantly dress her in an elegant wardrobe. And her character, all grace and poise, complements the regal production design that she finds herself wandering in.
Jackie sees her wander in and out of rooms, tending to her kids, giving a tour of the White House on camera, enjoying a solo music performance on cello, etc.
It takes a bit of time to get into director Pablo Larrain’s unconventional style and structure, but what is consistent is Portman’s mournful look as she recalls the days just before and after her husband was assassinated.
“I will march with Jack, alone if necessary.”
The film is plotless and has no particular narrative shape, but what it does best is to draw a haunting, lingering effect on the viewer (Mica Levi’s idiosyncratic, subtly dissonant strings-heavy score plays a huge part, a fantastic follow-up to her avant-garde work on Under the Skin (2013)).
There’s an overwhelming sense of tragedy, and as a character study, Jackie is poignant at best, sombre at second best.
Intercutting re-enactments and dramatizations with historical footage, Jackie tries to paint a portrait of a lady who despite having to suffer tremendous trauma, still had the courage and drive to etch her husband’s legacy as President into the collective mind of a grieving nation.
As far as the history of 20th century America is concerned, JFK and Jackie remain steadfastly assured of a place far away from mere footnotes.
Larrain, arguably the most important filmmaker to emerge from Chile in the last ten years, has made a film that is as non-traditional a biopic as it could be (huge credit also goes to screenwriter Noah Oppenheim for his distinctive script).
In a way, no American filmmaker could have possibly made a film like this. Instead of just formulaically receiving the movie, the experience of watching Jackie is more akin to witnessing the intimate spectres of fragmented history flow resplendently back to life. This is one of 2016’s underrated gems.