Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
Director: Pablo Larraín
Running Time: 99 mins
Jackie is an American film following Jackie Kennedy as she negotiates the immediate aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, wrestling between her and her family’s personal trauma and her duties to faithfully honour her husband’s legacy.
This film really hurts, but it’s a mighty fascinating watch that makes the emotional turmoil absolutely worth it. With an incredible central performance by Natalie Portman, thrilling cinematography and direction, measured pacing, beautiful production design, and a story that covers so much in such a short time, Jackie is a phenomenal film that will enthrall history buffs and cinema fans alike.
There’s so much to talk about with Jackie, but I think it’s best that we start off with what makes it so truly powerful: Natalie Portman’s performance. Receiving plaudits the world over, Portman is exceptional as Jackie Kennedy in this film. Not only because of how spot-on her accent and mannerisms are, but also because of the incredible dramatic range she shows over the course of the film.
Structured in non-chronological order, the way in which Jackie Kennedy changes surrounding the moment of her husband’s assassination is painfully clear in Portman’s performance. Expertly portraying the immediate and unthinkable grief moments after JFK’s death, and continuing to build on her character’s emotional trauma as the most stressful week of her life unfolds, Natalie Portman is the very reason that it’s so easy to understand what Jackie Kennedy went through at that time, putting in one of the best performances you’ve ever seen on the big screen.
But what makes Jackie a truly brilliant film is that there’s so much more to it than just the central performance. For instance, it’s a visually thrilling watch from start to finish. In part due to its on-point depiction of the 1960s through beautiful costume and production design, making the film significantly more convincing, but also because of the way in which the camera looks onto the events that unfold.
The film sometimes holds the image of a grieving Jackie straight on for a long time, emphasising the powerful sense of emptiness that comes with the loss of someone so close. However, the majority of the cinematography is even more dynamic, and even more emotionally affecting.
If there’s ever a movie I’ve seen that warrants the use of extreme close-ups that float right in front of the characters’ faces for a painfully long time, it’s this one. Alongside Natalie Portman, nothing else sums up Jackie Kennedy’s emotional trauma and confusion following her husband’s death better that this technique. Whilst the act of bringing us physically closer to the characters makes the film even more engrossing, the way in which it echoes a sense of loss and turmoil is absolutely phenomenal.
And that brings me onto the final point, the film’s story. This isn’t what you’d call a historical drama in the traditional sense of the word, and yet it’s one of the most historically fascinating films I’ve ever seen, simply because it covers so much.
Whilst it’s so interesting to watch the behind-the-scenes of what happened after JFK’s assassination, the combination of that history with the incredibly personal drama depicting Jackie Kennedy’s grief makes this an utterly enthralling watch at every moment.
The film touches on the assassination itself, the immediate aftermath, the haphazard institution of Lyndon Johnson’s new presidency, the funeral procession, as well as Jackie’s own emotional turmoil relating both to a desire to honour her husband as a historical great and her exceptional grief that pushes her to the edge of sanity, questioning her faith and everything about life.
That’s a lot of information and drama to cover in just 99 minutes, but Jackie does it unbelievably well, making for one of the most riveting historical dramas I’ve ever seen, as well as allowing the opportunity for me to go back and learn even more in depth about the aftermath of the assassination.
Overall, I was so impressed by Jackie. Natalie Portman’s central performance is out of this world, but the way in which the film comes together with arresting visuals and an incredibly complex and deep yet fully riveting story left me unable to take my eyes off the screen and sending shivers down my spine as the character’s grief becomes more and more serious, which is why I’m giving it an 8.7.