True stories are popular aren’t they, especially for award films. I mean Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Lion, and Sully, are all based on true stories. It’s almost as if life is just as absurd as art, or that in the more chaotic meandering paths of our lives we seek the safety of the 3 act structure. Another film that is based on actual events but doesn’t have the happy Hollywood conclusion is Jackie, directed by Pablo Larrain and starring Natalie Portman.
Set after the now infamous JFK assassination, Jackie the movie follows Jackie Kennedy as she deals with the grief over the loss of her husband, reanalyses her role as a widowed first lady and manages the media cirques that surround one of the most high-profile political killings of the 20th Century.
Jackie is a beautiful film. Shot by Stephane Fontaine, who was behind the camera on A Prophet, Captain Fantastic and Rust and Bone, Jackie has an old-fashioned news footage aesthetic that allows for some great mixing of stock footage. Jackie also has an excellent production design as well as a great use of a muted colour palate that matches the somewhat downbeat emotional core of the film.
Perhaps the most talked about aspects of Jackie is Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the first Lady. Having never heard Jackie Kennedy’s voice before I went home and watched the original white house tour to discover that Portman’s Jackie is almost spot on. However, it goes beyond that, even though she is doing an impression of a real person Portman can convey a great variety of subtle emotions that move the performance from impersonation to inhabitation. She can convey smouldering anger, shocked grief as well a palpable joy in the portions of the film that occur before the assassination. It is spell binding.
Portman is also backed up with a fantastic cast of recognisable faces. For example, Billy Crudup gives as good as he gets as Theodore H. White, the Life Magazine reporter sent to interview the grieving first lady. Peter Sarsgaard’s Robert F. Kennedy is a quiet highlight of the film, and his emotional interactions with his sister-in-law are perhaps some of the most moving portions of the movie.
Despite the movie being a tour-de-force of cinematography, editing and performance, Jackie feels overwrought. While it is an important story to tell, by the end of the movie, the constant speeches about the image of the Kennedys become repetitive and boring. Finally the fact that they show the assassination somewhat cheapens the film in my opinion and compromises what could have been an understated masterpiece exploring the legend that was JFK, and how Jackie was able to cement that in the mind of the American people through a series of iconic images.
I probably came to Jackie too late for people to watch it in cinemas, but I would highly recommend people look for it, on demand or on Blu-Ray, because despite the problems with its theme and message it is still a fantastic film and one of the better ones of this Oscar season.