Directed by: Pablo Larrain | 100 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella, Sara Verhagen, Hélène Kuhn, Deborah Findlay, Corey Johnson, Aidan O’ Hare, Ralph Brown, David Caves, Penny Downie, Georgie Glen, Julie Judd, Peter Hudson, John Paval, Bill Dunn
How do you deal with a sudden and crushing loss? If your husband gets shot next to you? And if you also lose part of your own identity, your own status and position as First Lady? How do you want the world to look at you? ‘Jackie’ offers an intriguing glimpse into the most turbulent days in the life of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) at the end of November 1963. Not a traditional biography, but a short period that fiercely highlights all her qualities, qualities and shortcomings around the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).
The title role is filled with phenomenal acting by Portman, who knows how to imitate Jackie’s elegance and above all her voice without resembling her. The whole film revolves around her, about her experience, Portman is in every scene, carries the film and in doing so she knows how to interpret the complete spectrum of emotions – and the different stages of grief – in an amazing way. In addition, she shows a different Jackie every time. Together with the narration, this sometimes makes it difficult as a viewer to really empathize with what she is experiencing. However, Portman manages to find the right balance and a deserved Oscar nomination was her share.
The film is framed around an interview Jackie conducts with “the journalist” (Billy Crudup) a week after the funeral – based on a conversation Jackie actually had with Theodore White, without his name being mentioned. In it she looks back on the successful tour she gave in front of the television on Valentine’s Day 1962 and the assassination attempt on JFK on November 22, 1963. Because of the broken structure and the fairly long flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks), director Pablo Larraín knows perfectly well her fragmented mind and state of mind. Whether it really happened that way remains a mystery. Of course, the drama and not a documentary and the Chilean filmmaker and his crew are free to interpret the events as they see fit. Most of the scenes are consistent with the historical facts and the memories of those around her. Her manipulative side is most evident in the verbal sparring match with a very aggressive interviewing Crudup.
Portman’s impersonation of the former First Lady’s voice has been the subject of much controversy. It can be imagined that this can cause irritation to some people, but if you watch the original recordings of the White House Tour from ’62, you will hear that Jackie’s voice is approached almost perfectly.
In key supporting roles, we see an almost unrecognizable Greta Gerwig as her assistant Nancy Tuckerman, Peters Sarsgaard as an unrecognizable Robert “Bobby” Kennedy (and not in a good way) and John Hurt as “the priest” with whom Jackie has a candid conversation about life. and death and the nature of her marriage.
Sarsgaard is the only dissonance in an otherwise masterful film. There is not much wrong with his acting in itself and that he hardly resembles the younger brother of the president (and also Minister of Justice) is up to that point. But he also makes no attempt to match Bobby’s voice and demeanor. Moreover, there is hardly any reference to the fact that as his brother’s support and support, he has also fallen into a black hole and is going through a grieving process. Sure, there are scenes where he stares gloomily, but his version of Bobby Kennedy never really comes to life for the viewer. John Hurt shines with his sonorous voice in one of his last film roles before his death in early 2017 as a priest who also has no answers to the questions of life that Jackie struggles with, but in the meantime manages to touch the deeper layer.
Other roles include John Carroll Lynch as a rough-and-tumble Lyndon B. Johnson, JFK’s successor, and Richard E. Grant as designer Bill Walton. Phillipson, a Danish actor chosen for his resemblance to the president, is rarely seen and the only dialogue he has is unmistakably Kennedy’s own voice.
Larraín manages to capture Jackie’s inner state of mind with beautifully filmed, wordless scenes, supported by the matchless and ominous music of Mica Levi. Also central is the closing song from the musical “Camelot”, a popular Broadway hit of the time, which formed the basis for the myth of the fairytale Kennedys in the White House.
Incidentally, the film does not shy away from the horror: although the assassination attempt has already played a role in many films and TV series, here we see for the first time in close-up what the traumatizing effect must have been for Jackie Kennedy. Her husband’s head shattered, her clothes, hair and face covered in blood and brain tissue—and that was just the beginning of the nightmare. Unconsciously or not, to erase the unworthiness of death, Jackie plans the most dignified and memorable way to mythologize her husband.
Her private life clashes violently with her public life: Kennedy was not just any man – Jackie also makes it clear that their life together was anything but bright and sunny – but the president. The whole country, the whole world is watching, even if it is just the state funeral attended by more than 100 foreign heads of state and government. It’s in those private moments that the film resonates most emotionally: how do you tell your five-year-old daughter and your nearly three-year-old son (John Jr.’s birthday was the day of the funeral) that their father is never coming back? Also particularly strong is the scene where Jackie is drunk late at night and wandering all alone through the White House residence. The next moment she makes decisions about the funeral procession and determines how millions of television viewers can cope with the death of the president. And set in motion the myth of “Camelot,” which perhaps gave JFK more status in death than he was entitled to in life.
‘Jackie’ is a captivating character study that breaks out of the usual biographical checklist and shines a new light on one of the most famous and at the same time most unfathomable women of the 20th century in her weak and strong moments.