JACKIE (Chile | France | USA15A/100mins)
Directed by Pablo Larraín. Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt.
THE PLOT: After the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) in November 1963, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) finds herself not only dealing with the trauma of her husband being shot while sitting beside her, but also organising the assassinated President’s funeral, the almost immediate loss of her standing as First Lady of the US, moving out of the home that she had lovingly restored and considering her husband’s – and her legacy – for generations to come.
THE VERDICT: There has been a lot of talk about ‘Jackie’, director Pablo Larraín’s first film to be shot in the US, since Steven Spielberg was once attached to the project as producer, when it was to be a HBO miniseries, and Natalie Portman has been Golden Globe nominated for her performance as the bereaved, strong but fragile Jackie Kennedy.
Natalie Portman, as the title might suggest, is the heart and soul of ‘Jackie’. Framed around an interview with an unnamed journalist – played by Billy Crudup – the story of the film is told through flashback, and Portman does an impressive job in making Jackie a strong but guarded woman, yet one that is fascinating and difficult to look away from. It is in the quieter moments of the film that Portman truly excels – although scenes of ‘Jackie’ in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s shooting are incredibly powerful – and Portman is luminous and utterly engaging in the lead role. The rest of the cast features Peter Sarsgaard in a pivotal role as Bobby Kennedy, Billy Crudup as the challenging and challenged journalist around whose interview the film is framed, John Hurt sporting a great Irish accent, as well as compassion and heart as Jackie’s priest, as well as Greta Gerwig, Richard E. Grant, Beth grant and John Carroll Lynch.
It is almost surprising that the screenplay for ‘Jackie’ was written by Noah Oppenheim, whose previous films are the YA dystopias The Maze Runner and Allegiant, since this is a complex, dignified and telling portrait of grief, legacy and fame. Natalie Portman has some great lines as Jackie, and is always biting, smart and quick, and it is this that allows the audience to truly get to know the character. Focusing the film on the four days after JFK’s assassination means that ‘Jackie’ is a film about grief and trauma – themes that are universal, but also personal and private – but shining the spotlight of fame and legacy on these, since Jackie was a public figure, makes for compelling viewing. One complaint, if there is one to be made, is with the final few minutes of the film, which has the feeling that the film could end at any time, but seems to drag its heels.
As director, Pablo Larraín makes sure that the film is firmly focused on the personal, the feeling of being left behind to deal with the trauma of having someone snatched away so suddenly and so cruelly. Larraín coaxes a wonderful performance from Portman, who could easily have hidden behind Kennedy’s distinctive accent and manner of speaking, but makes this a facet of her personality, rather than a curiosity. Although ‘Jackie’ has wonderful dialogue, it is in the quiet, almost silent moments of the film that it excels, with Jackie walking through the halls of the White House, almost like a ghost. Larraín excels most in humanising a woman that many know the image of, but few her personality, and allowing the audience to root for a bereaved woman whose world has suddenly been turned upside down.
In all, ‘Jackie’ is a fascinating and compelling piece of work. Natalie Portman cements her place as a powerful actress, and excels at humanising Jackie Kennedy and bringing her to life. The rest of the cast do well, and Larraín directs carefully, the only complaint about the film is that with several false endings in the final few moments, ‘Jackie’ begins to feel drawn out, even though the pacing until then has been strong. That said, ‘Jackie’ is a powerful and engaging portrait of grief, fame and strength.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Chilean director Pablo Larrain has already established himself as a director of note in the arthouse sector with the likes of No and Tony Manero. He has a very singular viewpoint of the world and isn’t afraid to tackle meaty and difficult subjects like in the troubling The Club. With Jackie, his first film in the US, he paints a portrait of grief that is so powerful and emotive that it transcends any attempts at Oscar-baiting to become something else entirely.

    The film orbits around Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in the wake of her husband and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. A journalist (Billy Crudup) arrives at her home in Hyannis Port to find her gaunt and grief-stricken. She makes things very clear though early on to the journalist: she is control of what will be published as she is the one propping up her husband’s fallen legacy. She relates the events of the fateful day of 22nd November 1963 in Dallas, when a bullet from a sniper’s rifle exploded her husband’s head and ended his presidency in an instant. She also relates what happened in the hours and days afterwards, as she prepares for the state funeral and how to tell her two young children why their father won’t be coming home anymore. A nation and the world is watching her every move, but she’s determined to put on a brave face, defy her grief and re-connect with her faith to find solace and closure…

    Put simply, Jackie is a stunning, remarkable film that has no false notes and never sets a foot wrong. This is a film which is intensely focused on its lead character, but in a subtle and under-stated way. Other characters come and go throughout the story, as a way to frame Jackie’s grieving’s process through various perspectives: brother-in-law Robert (Peters Sarsgaard), friend Nancy (Greta Gerwig) and a priest (John Hurt) who delivers perhaps the most telling statement of the film towards the end. Jackie is at the calm centre of this maelstrom, coming home in a Chanel dress spattered with blood to a White House without a President. Her grieving process is palpable and real. Noah Oppenheim’s script is mature and insightful into this woman’s mind. He’s said that he couldn’t imagine a more revealing moment to explore one of the most interesting women of the last century. He also said she deserves more credit for her exceptional understanding of image, public relations, and really creating the idea of Camelot after JFK’s death.

    To do all that though requires an actress of fearless determination to portray a revered First Lady. Portman is outstanding here, coiling herself up into a tightly-wound performance that captures the poise, elegance and even the slow, measured cadence of Jackie’s voice. It’s a fully three-dimensional performance that really gets to the heart of this tragic woman. This is the kind of committed performance that isn’t showy for Oscar-baiting sake. It’s a performance-driven film, so Larrain moves his camera in close to Portman throughout, showing her in moments of vulnerability, grief, tenderness, strength and hope. It’s a multi-layered performance which undoubtedly deserves an Oscar, but it also becomes deeply affecting. There’s a quality supporting cast throughout, but this is Portman’s show.

    The timing of the film’s release here will not go unnoticed. While President Trump takes office on the film’s opening day with only a 40% approval rating in the US, there’s something to be said about Jackie’s vision of a Camelot and an American President who inspires hope and a clear vision for the future. Jackie is an excellent film driven by an exceptional performance from an actress at the top of her game and a director who knows exactly what he wants to say. ‘There won’t be a Camelot, not another Camelot’. Indeed. *****

  • emerb

    “Jackie” is a multi-layered and ambitious new drama from Chilean director Pablo Larrain who, remarkably, has never worked in English before. Larrain brings us the behind-the-scenes drama that followed the Nov 22 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s not a conventional biopic, it is an intimate and intricate portrait of a woman under the influence of politics, celebrity and grief who had to deal with her own personal devastation as well as questions of preserving her husband’s legacy. “Jackie” is a character piece in which an essentially powerless but poised and dignified lady suddenly becomes the architect of her own destiny and learns to become a legend on the job. A superb Natalie Portman takes the lead role and it’s fair to say that she owns this movie. She delivers a true and realistic portrayal of a wife, mother and mourner who was just 34 when her husband was killed.

    The screenplay was written by Noel Oppenheim who cleverly frames the film’s events around Theodore H. White’s (Billy Crudup) famous Life magazine interview in the first lady’s home in Massachusetts, one week after the president’s assassination in 1963. This interview was held against the wishes of her closest confidantes, who would prefer the first lady remain in hiding but she summons him to her home so that she can give the “true” version of events. Although still grieving and shattered, she is determined to be the person who will
    frame President John F. Kennedy’s legacy. Only what she approves will be published and she will have the final say on what the public gets to see. The film moves purposefully through multiple incidents and scenarios from her words on arrival in Dallas the morning of the grim assassination that changed the course of history to her appearance at his state funeral three days later, behind a veil of black Swiss lace. One of the key segments in the film is her proud, passionate, personally guided tour of the White House two years earlier. In a 1962 tv show “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” Jackie takes CBS newsman Charles Collingwood, and the viewers of the world, through the newly renovated White House to emphasize that the improvements were paid for privately and done to enhance the structure’s central position in American history. Mostly, though, “Jackie” is set in the immediate aftermath of her trauma where we see how she is thrown into such a state of shock that she hardly notices that she’s walking around with blood on her pink dress for the whole day. She knows now that her reign is over. Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) has been sworn in
    as president, and the nation must adjust to the change. Jackie has to find a new home and a new way of viewing the world but she must keep up appearances.
    Publicly, the first lady remains at all times poised, graceful and elegant even amid her unimaginable inner turmoil. The result is a powerful, intimate portrait of a very public grief.

    Natalie Portman really shines here, virtually never off screen, she is completely convincing as the wounded yet graceful young lady. With the camera fixated on her, she completely dominates the film and it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. This is not merely an impersonation, she really brings the complex Jackie Kennedy alive and for me, it is the performance of her career so far and
    well deserving of Oscar recognition. She’s grief-stricken and polite, but much tougher than generally perceived, to the point that she might even come across as rude or cold especially in the interview where she orders that her points of view are recorded precisely as she wants, without the possibility of interference by the media. In her scenes with Crudup, she’s intriguing even when she’s disagreeable and this interview is a dramatic contrast to the awkward but camera-ready lady depicted a year earlier in the White House telecast. The numerous supporting roles are also filled by a fine cast of actors. In addition to Crudup as the reporter as who gets the sharp edge of Jackie’s tongue when his questions get personal, there is Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, John Hurt as a priest Jackie consults for advice and spiritual guidance, Richard E. Grant as Kennedy confidant William Walton and, most impressive, an unrecognisable Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s secretary and confidante Nancy Tuckerman. “Jackie” is an intelligent, emotional, insightful and unforgettable drama with a genuinely touching performance from Natalie Portman and I thoroughly enjoyed it. John F. Kennedy is today viewed as one of the America’s greatest presidents, and that’s largely due to the woman we are only finally coming to know. This movie feels like a fresh observed peek inside the White House where we get to glimpse the dignity, determination and heartbreak behind the woman we only know ever knew as “Jackie”. An impressive and persuasive drama, this is well worth seeing.