Jackie full movie review - Behind every great man, there's a woman... that's not to say she'll always have to stay behind...
If you asked anyone about the most influential First Ladies, the likelihood that the Top three includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton will be fairly strong.
But isn't it odd that Jackie was the only one not to be a preeminent political figure? That she stayed only 1000 days in the White House and was mostly remembered for her youth, good looks and taste for fashion? But it's misunderstanding the power of fate to believe it takes historically significant achievements to achieve historical significance. So, on a sunny day of November 1963, Jackie made the acquaintance with destiny when a bullet did the same with her husband's skull.
Pable Larrain's "Jackie" is an intimate portrait showing JFK's assassination from Jackie's standpoint and the aftermath from her perspective. It is a short time-line but enough to measure the greatness this frail and delicate woman could reach. Indeed, the film belongs to that category of intelligent biography pictures that don't go all "once upon a time" but choose the right period to emphasize the emotional struggles of their protagonists, like Diana's funeral in "The Queen" or Nixon's interview in "Frost/Nixon". Not all the biography movies need the time spans of "Gandhi" and "Lawrence of Arabia", so Larrain doesn't care much about Jackeline Bouvier or Jackie Onassis, this is the story of Mrs. Kennedy and how she went from that brunette concerned about showing her most dashing smile during the televised White House tour in 1962 to the confident woman who helped American people to get through their most difficult mourning time.
But "Jackie" can't do without a few flashbacks, so thanks to a clever editing (although sometimes a little awkward), the film is told in flashback through the infamous interview from Life Magazine one week after the assassination and conducted by a journalist played by Billy Crudup. The interview allows to swing back and forth in a rather elastic time-line and it raises the immediate awareness that this film, of bland and austere look, will be enhanced by the flashy performance of Natalie Portman. Watching the first ten minutes of the film, I understand why her performance was deemed Oscar-worthy right at the release. I had my reservations because she doesn't exactly look like Jackie and being four inches shorter added to her physical vulnerability, but when she's in close-ups and she asserts her doubts and her certitudes, when she shares her pain or sweeps all the rumors and falsehoods with chain-smoking confidence, she's believable.
As Jackie, there are even some 'Black Swan' vibes exuding from the performance as if Portman had an unconscious predisposition for dual and complex personas. And by juxtaposing scenes that take place before, during and after the assassination, you can see the evolution of Jackie without any obligatory narrative-serving transition. First, she's that timid woman with an catching smile, her youth and beauty doing the rest of the job. The day of the assassination, she's in a state of mental confusion, realizing that everyone is already in post-Kennedy mood, obviously Johnson and his wife have other things in mind than the funeral protocol and the only support Jackie can find is from Bobby (played by Peter Saargard). The emotional state of Jackie is conveyed by the very particular score of Mica Levy, which I would qualify as hit-or-miss, the kind to either adore or hate. It didn't bother me, but I don't really get what the fuss is all about.
But I loved every minute of the film when it dealt with Jackie's existential crisis, driven by her husband's terminated existence. The truth is that she never really measured his stature as a leader until he was killed, JFK entered history through his death, and then Jackie probably realized that like Lincoln, or in a lesser measure, McKinley and Garfield, his historical magnitude had deepened and it was her task to befit this greatness she felt like the only one to perceive. And the value of the movie is to show how hasty the funerals were to be, had it not be for Jackie's involvement. And as the process evolves, you can also feel the evolution and the gain in confidence that also transcended her all-smiling aura. The shocked woman with the pink outfit became a solemn, dignified, black-clad widow and mother aware of her responsibilities, among them, transitioning her husband to his new historical status... and herself in the process (albeit, involuntarily).
Larrain's film is less a biopic than a character study and through this portrait of Jackie Kennedy, we realize that sometimes, a shock can build a person. When it comes to history, what kills you can make you more iconic, that's for JFK, but what didn't kill Jackie made her enter history, by contributing to her husband's sanctification. One of the film's leitmotifs is a song JFK used to love, named "Camelot" a hymn about the loss and the exhilaration of great achievements. Not that I suspect this was the indirect commentary on our era "Jackie" tried to make, nor that there is a point in discussing the accuracy related events since most of the elements of the movie seem to be plausible and the performance of Natalie Portman makes the film all worth to watch.
There are also very captivating dialogues, especially with the late John Hurt, delivering one of his last performances as the priest who'll give a few hints to Jackie about the impenetrable ways of God. The heavy omen incarnated by his frail and declining health gives one disturbing but emotional edge to "Jackie". I only wish the film wouldn't have eliminated the one scene I waited for: John John saluting his Dad's coffin, that could have been a real emotional pinnacle, but it seems that the focus on Jackie confined to obsession and developing peripheral characters could have highlighted her personality in a more objective, then efficient, way. Still, within its modest budget and short run-time, this was a captivating movie.