Director: Pablo Larraín
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Run Time: 99 mins
‘Jackie’ is a biopic about the wife of the ill-fated President John F. Kennedy, played by Natalie Portman, and the aftermath of his assassination seen through her eyes. It is set as an interview where an unnamed reporter (many have speculated the film to be a retelling of the 1980 Life interviewby a Theodore White) interviews Jackie who recounts her tragedy. It is directed by Chilean director Pablo Larraín and this film is his English-language debut after directing many well-received Chilean films the most recent of which being ‘The Club’ and ‘Neruda’, both films being selected as Chile’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award but ultimately not nominated. Larraín clearly has talent but this film does seem like a bit of a strange choice as it doesn’t really suit his style. However, the film has received very strong reviews and Natalie Portman has received acclaim for her performance, garnering a Best Actress nomination.
‘Jackie’ is hypnotic in its execution at times but frustratingly also quite alienating and hard to connect with. The film is strongly and precisely directed by Larraín who has, for the most part, crafted a fascinating character story on the First Lady. Having Larraín directing this film ensures that this is not your standard biopic and instead what we get is more of an arthouse, deeper almost philosophical insight into this tragic event, told through Portman’s eyes. On that note, the performance by Natalie Portman is fantastic and totally deserving of the praise. The film is also meticulously shot by cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine and the film has a rather fragmented sheen to it to reflect this dysfunctional and troubling time in American history. But the overall film can be quite tonally cold at times and hard to access – it’s a film that definitely requires a second viewing to make a final judgement.
The success of this film hinges on its strong performances and pretty much across the board, the performances are very strong but this really is Portman’s film to command. I think part of the reason why I found this film hard to connect with at times and a little jarring was because of her performance and for most of the film, Portman is performing Jackie’s performance and very rarely do we get to see this character take a breather and connect with her a little. That said, I think what Portman goes for here is extremely original and again, with a second viewing, I’ll be able to appreciate her performance even more. Her character is effectively a ghost once her husband dies, she dies with him and is just pushed away out of importance and she watches these events unfold from a distance and sticks to her morals in remembering her husband appropriately. There are also some great supporting turns by Peter Sarsgaard as the President’s brother, Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup as the reporter but the actor who made the best impression was the late John Hurt who gives one of his best performances as a Priest and the final lines in the film with his character are particularly poignant given his death, testament to the fact that we truly have lost a great man and a commanding screen presence.
I was very excited to see that Mica Levi would be scoring this film after being totally enamoured with her work on Jonathan Glazer’s 2014 film ‘Under The Skin’ and this is her first score since then and whilst it is once again very original, I did find it very jarring in terms of how it complimented the film and further added to the sense of alienation from both an audience and character perspective. Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography is superb here though and his imagery here is very intelligently crafted and gives a sense of the stressful time the First Lady faced. When the eruptions of violence do arrive, Fontaine’s cinematography is suitably frenetic to reflect this mood – this is someone who will go far.
In summary, I did find ‘Jackie’ to be quite a powerful and original experience but it is something that requires repeat viewings to fully discover what this film holds as it is quite hard to get into. However when the film opens up, I was totally enamoured with it and due to this, I think it is a film that will only get better the more you watch it. Pablo Larraín and Natalie Portman make for a great combination and as mentioned, I did originally struggle to see how his style would translate here but it does and this definitely has opened the path for him to greatness in Hollywood. Whilst this film will most likely be remembered for Portman, definitely take note of John Hurt’s performance as he too is excellent and testament to why he was so well loved within the film industry. For now, I found a lot to like in the film and this film should hopefully grow with further viewings.