Country: Chile, USA, France, Hong Kong
Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Music: Mica Levi
Cinematography: Stéphane Fontaine
Richard E. Grant
John Carroll Lynch
A disclaimer, this reviewer’s unforgivably limited knowledge pertaining to Jackie Kennedy before watching this biopic only encompasses that she was the wife of JFK and a poised portrait evinces an uncanny physical resemblance of a Jeanne Tripplehorn in her prime.
Under the rein of Chilean director Pablo Larraín, his first venture in wrestling with an American historical figure, his outsider status lends JACKIE a rapier-like sobriety in balancing between a complaisant hagiography and a de-mythologizing sensationalist. An unconventional approach is the time-frame, unlike most fares of that ilk which often adopt a blanket method to encapsulate its subject’s life trajectory within a sweeping time-span, JACKIE revolves only around JFK’s assassination, the tragedy precipitates a switcheroo which starts to disintegrate Jackie’s composure, she is beleaguered with mounting and daunting personal corollaries (moving out of the White House, arranging the funeral particulars, informing her tots of their father’s death, etc.) and emotional aftermath (a bereavement so unexpected and would completely shatter her status quo), not to mention the shock imposed by the grisly horror which she has experienced right before her own eyes.
Noah Oppenheim’s trenchant script delves profoundly into Jackie’s frame-of-mind during that particular period, and peels off her stately, comely bearing to lay bare the essences, a human being undermined by the post-trauma complex, both rationally and emotionally, for example, more than once, she backtracks on the decision of a grand parade for the cortège, and battles with her own conscience, is that pageantry a right move to preserve JFK’s legacy or a vanity project for herself when she still can, since the aureole is doomed to fade after her status delegates from the First Lady to a famed widow.
Setting the film with a frame story of Jackie (Portman) interviewed by a journalist (Crudup) a week after the tragedy, then piecing together the narrative from various fragments before-and-after, Larraín treads light on flashbacks which precede the central snafu, the preponderance of which consists of the black-and-white recreation work where Jackie making an introduction tour of the White House for a television program, her diffident yet elegant, but essentially very much calculated public veneer. Also Larraín, as one might expect if familiar with his oeuvre, doesn’t flinch from showing us the brutal violence with utter verisimilitude and has no intention to aggrandize the lovey-dovey schmaltz between a married couple, Jackie barely makes any remarks on JFK in a personal way in the wake of his death, guilt has a knock-on effect on her though, “I could have shielded for him” Jackie confesses, but surprisingly, we don’t get the feeling it is because her deep love for him other than an onus she fails to commit, because it comes at a point when she ponders upon death by bravely walking side by side with JFK’s casket in broad daylight, yet the irony is that after her husband is out of the picture, her collateral position doesn’t have enough leverage to put herself on that slate as a worthwhile assassination target.
Natalie Portman, does go off the beaten track to gird herself for a role (that distinguished accent alone is quite an achievement for its own sake) which will stand cheek by jowl with BLACK SWAN (2010) as top feathers in her cup, a full-bodied incarnation deserves every honor she receives, she magically combines Jackie’s allure with sophistication, wits with wiles, vulnerability with moxie, never shies away from the ever-dominant close-ups trying to elicit and convey every single shift of Jackie’s emotional niceties. Among the support group, Peter Sargaard gets his shine as Robert F. Kennedy, who takes on a contradicting role both as Jackie’s consoler and her competitive griever; the late John Hurt strobes in one of his final works to pass wisdom and guidance as the priest and Billy Crudup brilliantly plays against a barnstorming Portman in their battling tête-à-tête. But let’s not forget Greta Gerwig, who plays Jackie’s confidant Nancy Tuckerman against her usual type of hipster, provides the sole shoulder for her to cry on, and they crystallize a beautiful friendship between women which is not tainted by any venom of the world.
Indie musician Mica Levi’s predominantly eerie and spasmodically strident string score is another distinction of this off-kilter biopic, like its reference of Camelot in the story, which brings something earthy and incongruent in the rarefied air of political import, makes up as an indispensable constituent of Lorraîn’s sterling team, which allows JACKIE exude a rare stirring frisson that eludes most biopics of recent years, even for those who are not familiar with its real-life subject.