Not often are films about American historical figures made by a foreigner but Chile’s Pablo Larrain proves to be an exception as he directs Natalie Portman in the Jackie Kennedy biopic, sort of. Similar to 2015’s Steve Jobs, Jackie is not the typical rise and fall biopic as it gives an in depth look into moments before and after the assassination of her husband, John F Kennedy. The story is told from Jackie’s perspective as she sits down for an interview with an unnamed journalist played by the always great Billy Crudup. Requesting she have final say in the write up, Jackie goes into detail about the day of terror and her wish to honor JFK.
The film borders on mesmerizing when we see Mrs. Kennedy in the moment, at her most vulnerable. The grainy, washed out colors paired with the eerie score composed by Mica Levi (known for Under the Skin) enhance the horror and gives us perspective on what the First Lady experienced. Larrain develops a convincing sense of isolation as Jackie copes with the loss and leaves the audience with chills down their back as Levi’s score plays on. The film begins to falter when they cut back to Jackie doing the interview with Crudup’s character. Letting the air out of the balloon, these scenes stall and often crawl into the next flashback before it picks up momentum again. Noah Oppenheim takes a delicate subject and crafts it into a script that is quite compelling for the majority of it. Having a runtime of 100 minutes helps to fight off the few pacing issues as it gets right to the point.
Looked at as one of the most successful transitions from child to adult actor, Natalie Portman adds to her acclaimed filmography with her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy. Already the favourite to win her second Best Actress Oscar, this performance solidifies her as one of the elite talents in the industry. Undergoing a major transformation which includes developing a thick Mid-Atlantic accent and the iconic wardrobe that features the pink Chanel suit, we soon forget we’re watching Portman as she embodies the likeness of Kennedy. Portman tackles the different stages of Jackie with ease as her characteristics differ during the different periods of time. Early glimpses of the First Lady show her to be shy and curious as she adjusts to life in the White House, including the famous tour inside. It’s not until she is cleaning the blood off of her that she comes to terms with the murder of her husband. She worries JFK will be soon be forgotten and is determined to honor him with a funeral service comparable to Lincoln’s to legitimize his legacy. During the interview a week later we see Jackie as testy but susceptible as she recalls the tragic event.
Pablo Larrain and Noah Oppenheim delve deep into the history books to bring us a raw, never before seen look inside the assassination of John F Kennedy. Portman’s performance as the complex Kennedy is career best work and differs from other portrayals as we get layers of the character and see her develop over the period of a week. Larrain shows he has no filter as we experience visceral scenes that are sure to leave viewers in shock and awe. Though the pacing is inconsistent, at 100 minutes Larrain captures the spectacle of the moment and delivers an authentic take on a tragedy that has been adapted on the small and big screen numerous times. A genuine character piece, Jackie features fine detailed filmmaking and a performance for the ages from Natalie Portman.