Review: ‘Jackie’ An Intense Close-Up Look At An Iconic First Lady

Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is an intense close-up at one of the most iconic First Ladies, Jackie Kennedy. The film is anchored by tremendous performances from the entire cast and a stand-out performance from Natalie Portman in the title role. One of the more surprising moves is that Larraín abandons the typical approach to biographical films and keeps her focus on the events shortly before, during, and after the assassination of President Kennedy.

What was compelling to me was the lack of a linear approach in the film. There wasn’t an actual beginning, middle, and end, the film jumped around from pivotal moment to pivotal moment. Each moment more engaging than the next, which drew me in further and further into the movie. Larraín’s Jackie is a complex narrative where the former first lady is concerned about image, legacy, her place in history, and lastly how to deal with the grief of losing the man she loves. No one is going to feel comfortable watching this film and no one really should. They make many subtle choices in the movie to make you feel gradually uncomfortable as the film progresses. For example, there’s the scene with Portman washing off all the blood when she returns to the Whitehouse from Dallas. Of course, there’s the scene where the new first lady, Lady Bird Johnson is talking about the changes that she wants to make to the white house now that her husband is Commander and Chief (right within earshot of the former first lady). Mica Levi’s musical score strikes a sad chord as it embodies the melancholy a nation was feeling during this time of tragedy

Jackie

Credit needs to be given to screenwriter Noah Oppenheim’s tightly constructed narrative. Oppenheim doesn’t seem to be influenced by any sources. He portrays the former first lady as a woman who lived a life of duality. There was “Jackie Kennedy” the former first lady who was soft spoken and the epitome of what ladies strived to be. Then you had Mrs. Kennedy who seems driven to be in control of everything a driven by maintaining a public persona. It’s a pretty sad tale of a person who truly didn’t have anything that was her own, not even who own personality.

Larraín takes risks with who the former first lady was as he portrays her hitting rock bottom shortly after returning to the  White House following her husband’s assassination. In the film, we see Mrs. Kennedy go through her husband’s belongings and even going into the oval office while she’s drinking vodka (by what seems to be the bottle) and popping pills. It was a stirring moment in the film for multiple reasons. For starters, this is the first time the audience sees the former First Lady giving up. Secondly, this is the most human moment that we see from her in the film. She’s not worried about the public, perception, or whether the American people know if she smokes, she’s just a woman who’s world was just shattered into a million pieces.

Certainly, the talk of this film will be the performance of Natalie Portman. Portman tackles the title role with such ferocity and grace. She embodies the first lady in every way possible. Portman exudes the type of vulnerability that Mrs. Kennedy had to have felt during her time in the White House. Remember, everyone was glued to any details that came out of what known as “Camelot” (according to Richard Burton). On top of all of this, she also dealt with the reality that her true love was secretive and had ladies on the side. The last time Portman gave such a visceral performance, it was for Black Swan and we all know how well that turned out for her.

Jackie isn’t the sort of film that many will actively seek out but everyone that does will be rewarded with a stirring portrait of a woman whose world crumbled right in front of our very eyes. We get a chance to see the bravery of a woman who put everyone’s needs above her own. Most importantly, we get a glimpse into who the former first lady was, flawed at times and riddle with guilt (Just like the rest of us).

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.

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