Following the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, American citizens were glued to their televisions as they watched for any updates on the events that occurred. With the country being thrown into uncertain times, they wanted to make sure they knew everything that was going on during those dark days. Despite keeping informed, what the public didn’t see was what First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was doing to keep her family intact and prepare for her husband’s sendoff.
In director Pablo Larraín’s biographical drama, “Jackie,” he offers us a view of the former First Lady unlike we’ve ever seen before, one that’s filled with the emotions of her going through the loss of her husband and doing what she can to make sure people remember him. And with a stunning lead performance from Natalie Portman, we are given a poignant look at one of the most somber weeks for both the White House and America.
While living in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, Jackie Kennedy (Portman) is visited by “Life” magazine reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), who wants to interview her about her final days in the White House. During their talk, Kennedy will recount the time between her husband’s assassination and funeral.
Portman delivers one of the best performances of her career. She use her acting talents to embody Jackie perfectly with the former First Lady’s looks and voice, displaying a steely persona as her character works hard to navigate herself, her family, and America in the aftermath of a harrowing event. Through the view of a camera that never seems to leave her, Portman lets us see every thought and feeling that her character experiences as Jackie plans for what’s to come. Watching Jackie transition from the shock and horror of the assassination to displaying a firmness in how her husband should be remembered is to see someone do what they can to take charge during the hardest of times, and Portman is superb in carrying this film and bringing this true story to realization.
The cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine makes extensive use of close-ups throughout the film. When filming Portman in this style during much of the movie, he adds to the intimateness that the audience experiences while watching Jackie’s character. By doing so, we get a thorough view of what she’s feeling and thinking, a window into which we see what wasn’t on the news. These close-ups reveal much about her inward journey as she tries to make sense of what’s happening, and Fontaine does all that he can bring us into her psyche.
The screenplay by Noah Oppenheim offers a very detailed look at the short time frame of the film. It’s not a conventional biopic in that it shows Jackie’s life in its entirety, but rather focuses on a portion of her life that impacted both her and the country. This is a story that keeps all of its attention on her, as the film doesn’t go for more than two minutes without Jackie appearing in a scene. Because of this, the narrative allows us to have a deeper understanding of this turning point in Jackie’s life, a turning point by which she collects her strength and gives her husband the farewell she knows he deserves. This emphasizes the importance she feels for historical legacy, a concept that’s fascinatingly explored throughout the film and underlined by some occasional scenes of Jackie filming the February 1962 White House tour and explaining her restoration process of the presidential residence. However, one small issue with the script is its use of the interview as a framing device. Although it’s an interesting aspect, it sometimes takes away from the narrative focus of Jackie’s last days as a First Lady.
With the help of Fontaine’s camerawork and Mica Levi’s score, as well as its utilization of some of the music from Alan Jay Lerner’s musical, “Camelot,” Larraín is able to craft this biopic into a psychological examination of Jackie as she goes through an emotionally arduous time. Through his direction, Larraín forgoes the conventions of other biopics and instead uses his filmmaking talents to delve into the mind of Jackie and capture the history of the film’s events. “Jackie” shows the trepidation and uncertainty that follows the movie’s devastating events, but it also acts as a testament to the strength we discover in ourselves in the wake of a tragedy.
Final Grade: A-