Film Review: Jackie
Directed by Pablo Larrain
In cinemas from January 12
Don’t expect “Jackie” to be a biopic of Jacqueline Kennedy, her days of Camelot through to her marriage to Onasis and her tragic end in 1994. This slightly unusual film by director Pablo Larrain (The Club, Neruda) is mainly set in the days after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and follows First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) as she deals with her grief, confronting the protocols around the funeral of JFK, leaving the White House and explaining their father’s death to the children as well as her efforts to ensure her husband’s legacy. There are also scenes with her Catholic confessor (John Hurt) who tries to comfort her with meaningless religious claptrap.
While the film mainly focusses on those few days after JFK’s death there are flash backs to earlier days in the White House including a recreation of the 1962 CBS tour of the White House hosted by Jackie. All the interiors for the film were created with remarkable exactitude in Paris studios, the furniture, decorations and even the wallpaper researched and reproduced.
Events such as the White House performance by Pablo Casals in 1961 are also accurately depicted. In much the same way that the physical environment of the White House is replicated so too is Portman’s depiction of Jackie.
In re-creating events, director Pablo Larraín begins with the interview Theodore White (played by Billy Crudup) had with Jackie for Life Magazine which was conducted at her house shortly after the assassination. The narrative then moves backwards and forwards looking at various elements of the political and personal events surrounding her life. The notion of the JFK years being some sort of Camelot is briefly alluded to when, in a semi-fantasy sequence Jackie plays a track from the Camelot record.
She also reflects on what her life has been and at one point in her interview says “I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy”
The interview is used to link to the other events with the reporter asking the insensitive question “What did the bullet sound like?” We then hear the gunshot and then follow the motorcade racing to the hospital with Jackie holding the Presidents bloody head. This leads on to an intense emotional sequence where she wipes the blood off her face and removes her bloodied clothing.
The film deals with wrench both physically and emotionally she had to go through in dealing with the funeral, making arrangements for his burial and the conflicting demands of the state and the Kennedy family. There is also her preoccupation on seeing parallels with Lincoln’s assassination and burial. – insisting on a huge cortege to walk through the streets of Washington.
There is also shocks she must have had in leaving the White House. In a pre-assassination sequence, we see her with her interior designer speaking about decorations. Then, just as she leaves The White House for the last time she sees the same designer holding swatches of material talking to Lady Bird Johnson, the incoming new First Lady. Her loss of power, status and influence gone.
The music by composer Mica Levi initially feels over emphatic and aggressive but it suits the slightly disjointed and dreamlike nature of the film which often feels like a psychological investigation.
Natalie Portman gives a remarkable performance reflecting both her strong public persona as well as her often brittle private personality, creating a densely layered emotional character. Even though she may not be a look-a-like, the combination of clothing, voice, body language and general demeanour she gives a real sense of Jacqueline Kennedy. The clothes are easy to recreate, her movements and deportment easily copied from existing film and television but the voice has to be more than copied with Portman imbuing her character with all the nuances and subtly needed to paint a true psychological portrait, not just of the First Lady but an individual.