Director: Pablo Larrain
Cast: Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard
Watch Jackie online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
“Don’t think for a second I’m going to let you publish that,” Jackie Kennedy (Portman) tells reporter Theodore H. White (Crudup) at the start of Jackie. Speaking slowly, breathily, with a high-pitched purpose, it’s easy to see this eponymous portrait as overly staged and scripted, a stylised account of events that’s all too artificial. But Pablo Larrain’s biopic is so much more than that, peeling back the iconic Kennedy surface to examine the fraught truths beneath.
Jackie was, first and foremost, a First Lady famous for her appearance. She embraced public perception in a way never seen before by the US Presidency, even opening up the doors of the White House for a televised tour – hosted, naturally, by herself. Jackie’s pink Chanel outfit became a must-have fashion item. Her and her husband’s parties were landmarks on the country’s social calendar. Today, the idea of spin, presentation and influencing what the media do or do not report are all commonly accepted as a part of politics, and feel even more relevant in the days of President Trump.
“Don’t let it be forgot,” Jackie repeats, almost like a mantra, when talking of her husband’s glossy legacy. “That once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” It’s hard to know if she’s trying to romance other people’s imaginations or delude herself – and it’s that gap between reality and myth, fact and fiction, that Larrain so expertly navigates. Much like his masterful political drama No, which was shot on old U-matic cameras, Larrain and his DoP Stéphane Fontaine make the inspired decision to shoot on 16mm, allowing them to blend archive footage and new video seamlessly. For recreating the White House tour, Larrain even digs out his U-Matic kit to get the tube-o-vision look just right.
It’s that attention to detail, that complete absorption of the time, that gives Jackie its intimate, immediate feel: Fontaine’s camera is close to its leading lady almost all the time, allowing us to jump from newsreels to close-ups offering emotional insight without missing a beat. It’s the perfect format for a woman who herself blurred the lines between honesty and well-honed surface.
Natalie Portman is magnificent as America’s First Widow, delivering a performance of heart-breaking sorrow and powerful resilience; she’s more vulnerable than her poised persona would ever suggest, but glimpsing that only makes her immeasurably stronger. Portman is on screen throughout the entire film, giving her nowhere to hide and everywhere to extend her subtle presence. It seeps into the actual format of the film. Fragmented by grief, Noah Oppenheim’s razor-sharp script jumps back and forth in time through the week after JFK’s death, each stage of loss wraught with tangible pain and chronological confusion. Throughout, a spine-tingling score from Mica Levi gives us swooning, easy-listening strings that slide into discord, like elevator music in a lift that can only go down. When we do see the assassination in full, it’s a heartstopping moment of catharsis and horror, shot like a thriller with stylish efficiency and maximum impact.
The rest of the world surrounding the Kennedys is given all-important authenticity by an understated supporting cast that includes Richard E Grant, Peter Sarsgaard and an unrecognisable Greta Gerwig. It allows us an opportunity to see Jackie in different contexts, changing her voice as she moves from insisting that her husband is given a lavish state funeral to telling her children the tragic news. It’s testament to Portman, though, that just her walking through the White House alone, blood-stained clothes or no, is enough to give the movie a burning fierceness.
The only person to steal a scene from her is the late John Hurt, who turns up as a priest in the final act. “Every night, I wonder…is this all there is?” he confesses to her. “Then, when morning comes, we all wake up and make a pot of coffee.” “Why bother?” she asks. “God, in his infinite wisdom,” comes the profound reply, “has made sure it is just enough for us.”
Chronicling the passing of an administration from one hand into another, and the shifting of affection from one figurehead to another, this is a dazzling dissection of surface and superficiality, a study of spin and strength that zooms in on the cracks of an iconic picture. But most of all, it’s a portrait of grief and gathering composure, a tour of a mind and nation in equal disarray.
“People need their history,” observes Bill Walter, the painter who masterminded JFK’s funeral. “It gives them strength.” Jackie finds that strength in America’s history and doesn’t wait for anyone’s permission to publish it.
Jackie is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.
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