Jackie – Film Review
Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy. (IMDB synopsis)
I almost feel annoyed when Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” is brought up in the same conversation as the sea of countless average “Oscar bait” biopics. At this point the genre mainly consists of underwhelming films with the primary goal of winning awards; and it works too. Think back to recent Academy Award nominated films, “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, “American Sniper”, “The Big Short”, “Trumbo” … etc. Whilst most of these movies are not terrible, they’re usually just bland or ‘okay’. But I can honestly say that “Jackie” has significantly more artistic integrity than not just most biopics, but most movies as well.
Firstly, I believe it was a strong decision to just outright not show most stages of Jackie’s life leading up to JFK assassination. The film is structured and crafted in such a surreal way that the rest of Jackie Kennedy’s life is ultimately irrelevant to the core of the film; furthermore, it is not required in establishing Jackie’s character and transformation as Larraín evidently portrays multiple aspects of the persona simply through her interactions with various people, whether it be a reporter, priest, the public or significant political figures. Although several sides of this character are shown, ultimately the underlying common element is the grief that she carries with her.
In fact, the major event that provokes the emotional trauma consumes little screen time, as if to suggest the suppression of the horror within the minds of the characters. This is accompanied with surprising restraint of conveying historical events just for the sake of it, as it always upholds the internal struggle as the focal point. I would say that this was one of the most uncomfortable films I’ve seen in a while, as the sequence of events remains so intimate, as if to say that the audience is invading Jackie’s personal space and threatening her privacy in the midst of intense grieving.
Secondly, I would like to express how great Natalie Portman was in this role; with Larraín placing her front and centre for the vast majority of the film, it was crucial that Portman deliver the performance of her career. I know that may seem surprising considering her inconsistent track record – I would be the first to admit she was terrible in the Star Wars prequels, “Brothers” and barely functional in the Thor movies, however the common aspect among those films is that they had incompetent directors (or studios) at the helm. However, in films such as Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” or Besson’s “Leon: The Professional” she pulls of magnificent performances, no doubt suggesting that Portman possesses the talent to be truly great, but she appears to be dependent on a director’s ability to work with their actors.
Under Larraín’s helm, Portman embodies Jackie Kennedy in every sense, whether it be the perfection of her unusual accent or by engaging the audience purely through scenes of raw emotion. With this portrayal of Jackie possessing multiple layers and elements, I undoubtedly believe that she deserves to be a serious contender for the best performance by an actress in 2016. It’s feels like one of those examples of when the performance transcends the matter of acting, as Natalie Portman with her recognisable face all but disappears from the screen in place for Jackie Kennedy.
With the involvement of such significant figures in America’s recent history, it is obvious that the film would consequently involve several aspects of the US’ political landscape at the time. Although, I don’t claim to be an expert on the US modern history, I will say the use of the political subject matter is very satisfying – but not excessive. For instance, the insider perspective of the interactions and feuds between significant people are fulfilling additions, even if they do not hijack the foreground of the film for long but rather penetrate the story in subtler ways.
I would also be doing a disservice if I did not commend the musical score by Mica Levi; with this and “Under the Skin” under her belt she has proven to be an enthralling and thoroughly unique composer. In “Jackie”, Levi offers a both haunting and mesmerising score that is so hypnotising but also efficiently utilised. Although it is prominent in some scenes, it never implies emotion where there isn’t any – the score is appropriately accompanying the visuals to emphasise the emotion as opposed to outright creating it. Although the score possesses a rather unusual style, it effectively encompasses the surreal atmosphere that Larraín has crafted.
Finally, I left discussing the structure of the film to last, because I believe it will be the primary cause of the divide between viewers. Whilst the film appears to be praised on a critical level, sections of the audience seem to not similarly appreciate it. I believe this to be due to unconventional structure that the narrative adopts as there are several scenes which do not follow the stories linear progression. For example, certain conversations are not shown in full, but rather split up and spread throughout the film. I believe the intention of this was to establish and explore the emotionally confused state of mind within Jackie Kennedy. This not only mimics the surreal nature of unexpected loss which in turn breeds shock, but also effectively takes the audience on a journey that is largely a gloomy downward spiral.
On the other hand, some may find this uncanny structural choice to be unsatisfying, as the film oftentimes offers little closure or blatant emotional payoff. The pacing also offers no reward for those who fail to invest themselves emotionally, as the sequence of events tends to embrace a slow, creeping and eerie pace; meaning that perhaps a little bit of patience may be required but it’s well worth it in my opinion. Whilst I do not agree with these complaints, I suppose it’s better to disclose that this film is certainly not for everyone, particularly if you do not indulge in the more artistic side of filmmaking.
In summation, “Jackie” definitely transcends above your average biopic, and even those who do align themselves with this film are still at least likely to be in for a different experience. In the sea of boring and lifeless biographical films I’m glad that Larraín chose to go the extra mile and innovate. With “Jackie” and “No” in his filmography he is definitely a director to watch out for. I’m happy to say that this is not only a great biopic but it’s also a great film, one that has no doubt earnt its acclaim and deserves to prosper in this upcoming award season.