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  • Jackie | Review

    By | December 21, 2016


    Director: Pablo Larraín

    Writer: Noah Oppenheim

    Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella

    I’ll admit to having felt almost zero interest upon hearing of a pending Jackie Kennedy Onassis biopic starring Natalie Portman…at least until I started hearing a bit more about the bold artistic endeavor undertaken by director Pablo Larraín (whose prior directorial work I was completely unfamiliar with). The fact that my interest was piqued sufficiently to see the film is a testament to the value of film critics and I owe those whose writings steered me toward this brilliantly acted and beautifully shot meditative film my thanks.

    It’s fitting that Jackie keeps John Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) on the film’s periphery, a powerful and almost haunting ghost of a presence who utters almost no words but whose brutal death and its aftermath is graphically displayed, the sudden, jarring explosion of the President’s skull determining a sudden new path for the First Lady, who in the midst of her grief and shock must pack up her belongings and leave the White House and her former life behind.

    Portman, who is surely deserving of an Oscar nod, embodies her subject to the extent that she is almost completely lost in the performance. Her subject’s story is told mostly through long silences, showering to remove her deceased husband’s blood from her hair, walking through Arlington Cemetery under overcast skies trying to find the perfect burial plot, and through her interactions with a variety of men, such as the priest (John Hurt) who will bury her husband or LBJ’s adviser Jack Valenti (Max Casella) or Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) or the journalist (Billy Crudup) she has agreed to tell her story to. It’s fitting, after all, as Jackie’s early 1960’s world was a man’s world but her intelligence and fierce desire to be the master of her own fate can be seen in how she navigates each of these interactions.

    Not told in a linear fashion, and more conjecture about the behavior of Jackie than documentary storytelling, the film meditatively moves back and forth between her days in the White House, often lingering on a TV special in which her lavish spending on decorating the White House was the focus, that fateful Dallas car ride and the ensuing plane ride home, the planning of her husband’s funeral and burial and the sit down interview. The accompanying score by Mica Levi is brilliant and striking and serves to tie all of the disparate pieces of the story together, in turns eerie, haunting, jazzily upbeat and funereal and almost manages to become a character in the film.

    Fiercely affecting, the film is a poignant and thought provoking reminder of the artifice inherent in being forced to live one’s life in public and also a reminder that there was a time that Jackie, one of the most famous women in the world, had to assume the role for the nation of grieving widow and do it with dignity, poise and grace while all the while having to struggle to privately deal with the violent dissolution of her own inner and outer reality.

    Rating: 9/10

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