A captivating and unflinching portrait of private grief amidst one of history's most public tragedies.
Jackie, by Chilean director Pablo Larrain, is a captivating and unflinching examination of private grief amidst one of history’s most enduring public tragedies. It is, as the name suggests, neither a film about JFK’s assassination nor of JFK himself, but rather a study of first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and the unfathomable burden of responsibility she both assumed and had thrust upon her in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s murder.
Portrayed by Natalie Portman with uncanny fidelity, Jackie’s story is told via a series of flashbacks as she gives her account of events to Pulitzer-winning journalist Theodore H. White (listed in the credits merely as ‘the journalist’ and played by the ever reliable Billy Crudup). White’s handwritten notes of that interview were made public the year after Jackie’s death, and reveal the extent to which she insisted upon oversight of the final copy to ensure JFK’s legacy was honoured, including her emphasis of the ‘Camelot’ theme that would forever after become synonymous with the late President’s name.
Much like the recent Eastwood film Sully, the most dramatic moment of Jackie (namely, her husband's assassination) is reserved for only the final stages of the film, choosing instead to keep its focus squarely on the minutes, hours and days that followed the Dallas shooting. Gone for the most part are the glitzy ballrooms and lavish parties, replaced by hospital waiting rooms, the back seat of a hearse and cramped bathrooms as host to the majority of the movie’s scenes.
The choice is well considered, demonstrating precisely how alone Jackie was in those trying days, save for Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and her faithful White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig). Jackie was a woman in a man’s world, where every one of those men felt entitled to tell her what to do, where to go and, most importantly, how to feel. That in that environment, under those conditions, she still found the strength to stand up to so many, including famously remaining in her blood-soaked clothes for the return trip to Washington (“Let them see what they did”), is a testament to Jackie’s character and forms the bulk of the film’s thematic line.
Portman’s performance is phenomenal, an extraordinary embodiment of the physical and aural cues that made Jackie such an icon in her own right. It’s such a remarkable likeness, in fact, that the film does on occasion veer dangerously towards a mere showcase of Portman’s abilities rather than advancing the story, however these moments are short lived and quickly forgotten. Portman has honoured her subject with a portrayal that, like Jackie herself, refuses to hide behind artifice - an unflinching, bare bones performance that only grows stronger the closer the camera comes.