Film: “Jackie”; Director: Pablo Larrain; Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, Caspar Phillipson; Rating: ***1/2
“Jackie”, a biographical drama, follows Jacqueline Kennedy during the days when she was the First Lady of America and the few days following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. It also delivers an important commentary on human nature and American culture.
Partly based on Theodore H. White’s Life magazine interview with the widow at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, US, it is a fascinating glimpse into the personal space of the lady, who many think they knew well because of her glamour and television appearances.
Unlike regular biopics which are either presented in a cradle-to-grave narrative or the nouveau approach of using one clarifying moment to better examine and sum up the person, Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim’s script is a three-layered mosaic with snippets of the interview, the thematically-tethered memories and the funeral planning.
This non-linear plot hypnotically engages the audience as it provides a clever conceit to its metatextuality. It gives you a strangely conflicting portrayal of Jackie as an obsessive mythmaker and keeper of the flame — an ironic, provocative approach — yet celebrates the Camelot myth in the process.
For the uninitiated, Camelot was JFK’s favourite Broadway musical. It is the story of a mythical world, ruled by King Arthur, where goodness reigned supreme.
In the midst of the unimaginable tragedy, she had a key focus: To ensure that her husband’s legacy — to change the world into a better place is protected among all the well-wishers, political vultures and craven opportunists. And to do that, she spun the fantasy by quoting from the musical, “Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment there was Camelot.”
If the account is true, the film portrays Jackie Kennedy as being awfully smug and pretentious. But with that being said, the audience is constantly reminded of how traumatic an experience she went through, and asks how we would feel if we were put into the same position. Nevertheless, we’re left with an immersive, impressionistic look, which is hard to distinguish the performance from the woman herself.
Shot in the style reminiscent of its 1960s time period, along with archival footage that blends the difference between documentary and recreation, director Pablo Larrain adds another stylistic level to the proceedings. The various threads of connectivity are so much more interesting to dissect with this storytelling approach that it makes the film a much deeper and more contemplative experience to unpack.
Natalie Portman as Jackie is impressive. She goes beyond mere imitation. She has got the voice, the look and she essays the devastated spirit that still has plenty of steel, with natural ease. With exacting close-ups, we get to watch an array of emotions play across her face. She has moments of strength, moments of pettiness, moments of heart-tugging lows and weakness. And Portman mesmerizes you with her fascinating yet complex performance.
She is aptly supported by Billy Crudup as the unnamed journalist, Caspar Phillipson as President Kennedy, Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, John Carrol Lynch as the next President, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Hurt as the priest, Max Casella as Jack Valenti — Johnson’s newly elevated special assistant.
Overall, with a proper tone, accurate setting and above all, an unforgettable performance, Jackie is a powerful, subtle and dark film made only more emotional by the grating soundtrack.