By John Corrado
★★★★ (out of 4)
Directed by Pablo Larraín in his English language debut, Jackie largely eschews the typical biopic formula to offer a complex and nuanced portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, exploring how she meticulously managed her place in the public spotlight, both as First Lady and sudden widow.
The narrative is centred around an interview between Jackie (Natalie Portman) and reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), taking place just a week after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).
The film uses flashbacks and jumps around in time to show the shock that was felt on day of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, and the ensuing process of planning the funeral, which she uses both to firmly cement her husband’s place in history and further establish her own spot in the pop cultural landscape.
Throughout it all, Jackie portrays its title subject as a woman who is in complete control over every aspect of her public image, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Jackie insists upon having final say over what will or won’t make it into the interview, crafting a carefully manicured version of herself to share with the outside world. The film also takes liberties with imagining moments that took place outside the public spotlight, showing intimate conversations she has with her two kids, as well as measured talks with brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), and quiet interactions with a kind aide (Greta Gerwig) and an understanding priest (John Hurt).
Natalie Portman doesn’t just portray Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie, she completely embodies her in a performance that is absolutely compelling to watch, capturing every little mannerism and the exact cadences of her distinctive accent. But this is no mere impersonation, rather a nuanced and emotionally demanding piece of acting that uses a real person as the basis for a complex onscreen character, which is no less than a towering achievement on the part of Natalie Portman.
The sequences that recreate Jackie’s famous televised tour of the White House blur the line between actor and historical figure in a fascinating way, with Natalie Portman bearing uncanny resemblance to her real life counterpart. There are also flashes of actual historical footage ingeniously embedded in the film, woven in both at the airport and reflected in the car window. Pablo Larraín brings this all together seamlessly and with a stylish touch, heightened even further by Stéphane Fontaine’s often breathtaking cinematography and Mica Levi’s eerily mesmerizing musical score.
This is a film that goes far beyond hagiography or typical biopic, not just showing the the “greatest hits” of its subjects life, but instead offering a complex and provocative portrait that uses the life of a historical figure to craft a fascinating and complex character study. It’s a work that stands out as something unique in its exploration of the intersections between history, politics and pop culture, built around a sublime performance from Natalie Portman that makes Jackie often thrilling to watch.
Jackie is now playing in limited release at Varsity Cinemas in Toronto.