Directed by: Pablo Larraín
A deep meditation on female strength in the face of loss and legacy
Jackie, like Hidden Figures, is a film with an important and refreshing female focus. Having previously brought us the Best Foreign Film Oscar-nominated No (2012) starring Gael García Bernal, Chilean director Pablo Larraín again casts his gaze upon the humanity of politics. His foreign perspective lends a level of objectivity to the proceedings and his direction steers Portman to a stand-out, Oscar-worthy performance.
Jackie, as the title suggests, centers upon Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy – wife of late US President John F. Kennedy. Assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, JFK’s murder is seared into global memory – especially that of the older generation – much like September 11 is imprinted more directly onto the younger psyche by way of real-time media coverage and the public consumption of such vision. Jackie is restrained with regard to the public trauma JFK’s death invoked. Although it inevitably deals both explicitly (public funeral) and implicitly (allusions to the loss of a nation’s father figure) with the emotional upheaval JFK’s assassination wrought upon the nation and further afield, the film pays more attention to the internal and very personal shockwave felt by Jackie.
Our recurrent narrative launch-pad is an interview between Jackie (Natalie Portman) and an unnamed reporter, played by Billy Cruddup in a welcome return to the big-screen following Spotlight (2015). As the interview unfolds, we repeatedly jump between the present lounge-room setting of Jackie’s Massachusetts home and the recent events leading up to it: Kennedy’s assassination and the immediate aftermath, Lyndon B. Johnson’s impromptu swearing-in aboard the Presidential plane, exchanges between Jackie and her brother-in-law, Bobby Kennedy, exchanges between Jackie and the priest, and general vignettes of Jackie’s enduring public stoicism in the face of tragic turmoil despite her own private scattered helplessness and pronounced personal frailty.
Natalie Portman delivers a faithful and true-to-life incarnation of Jackie down to her walk, her diction and her manner. Her interpretation is so consummate and credible that the apparent ease of her delivery almost undersells how impressive her performance really is. Her portrayal of the disarray such sudden and brutal bereavement inflicts upon those left behind is compelling. Several dreamy takes and extreme close-ups call to mind the style of Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (The Revenant) and really give Portman no option but to be brilliant. As the focal point in Larraín’s frames, there’s no escaping her task. Similarly, as the viewer, there is no denying the sheer gravity of some of her scenes – true events which are the stuff of nightmares. She manages to imbue them with striking pathos. John Hurt also co-stars as the priest set to preside over the funeral proceedings of the late Head of State, and his lines in the film, concerned with life, death and the interminable, irrational and futile search for meaning, are afforded additional weight in light of his recent passing. Peter Saarsgard co-stars as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman.
Larraín’s film is exquisitely shot and exceptionally acted. He demonstrates again his mastery of interweaving ostensibly old footage into current proceedings, as he did in No (2012). In this case, his juxtaposition of black and white TV footage is counter-posed against the colour of the everyday. Tonally quite muted and grey, the costume design and sets go a long way to strengthening this aesthetic and simultaneously mirroring the prevailing mood and themes of the film. Jackie’s wardrobe, especially its colour and boldness, and particularly in public, speak to her perception as a pillar in a time of crisis but also emphasize the dissonance between public perception and personal experience which the film seeks to dissect. The few flashback scenes of that fateful day, immortalised by the Zapruder tapes, are confronting. No matter how many times we’ve seen them, their portrayal drives home the hysteria, helplessness, bewilderment and lack of comprehension which blindsided everybody.
Women have historically so often been seen, especially by men, as personal and professional understudies. Larraín’s direction is a welcome rarity: as a cultural outsider to the juggernaut of US politics, his film exclusively depicts a female’s experience. Although sometimes oppressively melancholic, the film is an emotional and cathartic ode to grief, love and loss. An almost mood-piece which is noticeably quiet despite its strong score, I did ever so occasionally find my attention wavering. However, Portman’s performance is underpinned by such delicate vulnerability and hard to ignore emotional gravitas. Her poise and nuance is genuinely impressive.
Jackie gets 3.5 Presidential cavalcades out of five.
Available now on DVD/Blu-Ray at JB Hi-Fi.
Further Viewing: Neruda, The Club, No, Tony Manero
See Also: Foxcatcher, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints