Director: Pablo Larraín
Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim
Stars: Natalie Portman, Alexander Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup and John Hurt
Plot: In late November 1963, shortly after the assassination of her husband President JFK, Jackie Kennedy (Portman) is interviewed by a journalist (Crudup) about her life as being First Lady of the White House. She explains about how she struggled to maintain her dignity against the overwhelming grief of the Nation.
It has been said that Jackie Kennedy was the most iconic First Lady to have lived in the White House. From her fashion choices to her everlasting recognition in pop culture, one could argue that she has become something of a myth. And yet what Jackie, a truly fascinating biopic from Chilean director Pablo Larraín that is sometimes shot in a documentary-styled recreation of events, largely succeeds in doing is trying to show us the more human facets of her symbolic image. Even though it is set around only a short period of time, the events presented are enough to create a whole new perspective towards a woman who left a considerably important impact on 20th century history.
In this month alone, there have been a few films that have targeted the sensitive subjects of grief and guilt. Following A Monster Calls and the excellent Manchester by the Sea, Jackie is the third film to succeed in doing this. However, unlike the protagonists of those other films, Jackie is of course a real person dealing with a traumatic real-life event felt across the globe. What is undoubtedly amazing is watching how she acts so dignified and controlled in front of the professional and public eye. And how underneath this image is her persistent, even self-centred, desire to have her husband remembered for what he did across the world as a means of satisfying her own demons. This makes her a wonderfully multi-layered character who should justifiably be remembered as famously as the President whom she was married to.
Of course, it helps to cast the right actress in a role that demands such intense complexity. And in Natalie Portman, Larraín could not have picked anyone better. Firstly, Portman looks like a spitting image of Jackie even without the famous attires, make-up and hairstyles. But even more importantly, Portman is an actress whose greatest achievement is fully embodying the roles of the characters that she plays. In Jackie, she portrays the First Lady’s grief and steely determination so perfectly that it is really hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Though her superb performance is thoroughly deserving of awards, the rest of the cast do manage to hold out against her, most notably Billy Crudup as the journalist who interviews her and the always wonderful John Hurt as a supportive priest.
If there can be one critique made towards Jackie, it is largely aimed at its plot, which is told in a non-sequential way. This is understandable as Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim are more focused on presenting a story that builds Jackie’s character, but this does make the transitions from one event to another rather jarring at times. This is especially frustrating if one does not completely know how the full chronology of events played out. But the film is forgiven for this by wrapping up every strand as neatly as possible by its ending, making it a very satisfying experience. Something even Jackie herself would have approved of.