XXY Reviews: Jackie by Pablo Larraín

XXY Reviews: Jackie by Pablo Larraín

You would be forgiven for assuming Jackie is another biopic of the former First Lady. Many have tried in various guises to portray this historical figure – Jodie Farber in JFK and Jacqueline Bisset in America’s Prince, to name but two examples. But Pablo Larraín’s film, with Natalie Portman as the title character, marks a real digression. This is no ordinary biopic, no sensationalised story. It is a glimpse back to the year 1963 when Jackie Kennedy abruptly transitioned from a leading figure in the White House, to the United States’ First Widow. Larraín delves delicately into this tragic event, driving the story with various techniques that serve as a haunting reminder of how drastically this woman’s life was changed in an instant, along with the course of history.

Jackie Kennedy

Jackie is a hypnotic blend of casting, a watertight script and an unforgettable music score. Larraín’s interpretation is as stylish as it is poignant, and remains true to historical events. He uses flashbacks to portray Jackie teetering on a precipice in the aftermath of the president’s death. One moment we watch Portman give a tour of the White House; a perfectly poised figure who was keenly aware of her public image. The next, she stares vacantly into the camera, tears streaming from her eyes as her husband lies dead in her lap. Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine stays close on Portman with his 16mm camera, capturing her nuanced expressions in these heartbreaking moments. Underlying this is composer Mica Levi’s beautiful yet harrowing score. It mirrors Jackie’s turbulent journey as she fights to pave a life for herself and a legacy for the late president.

It is hard to imagine anyone else carrying this challenging role with the sensitivity that Portman adopts. At points, her staged expressions and raspy, low voice could border on irritating. But Portman does not buckle; this is a perfectly justified portrayal of Mrs Kennedy, without being an imitation. Fontaine’s intense close-ups remind us of this. The grief is palpable, and her character’s dogged determination to stand out in a world so desperate to cast her aside shines through.  

Greta Gerwig and Peter Sarsgaard provide excellent support as social secretary Nancy Tuckerman, Jackie’s confidante, and Bobby Kennedy. Sarsgaard’s character is a great prop to Jackie, lending his shoulder amid the chaos that ensues. As administrators flow through the White House, ushering in a new president, these characters provide warmth. In one touching moment prior to the tragedy, Gerwig as Tuckerman calms a nervous Jackie before an appearance on camera. It is a touching reminder of this woman’s humanity; something so easily forgotten in the face of her public duty.

Larraín’s Jackie is entirely deserving of praise. Accompanied by a brilliant cast and crew, he blends style with substance, fact with drama, and colour with darkness. The resulting film is in a constant state of flux; much like life itself. It is a poignant reflection of the past, and an important lesson of how greatly this can shape our future. In the wake of a new presidential inauguration, never has this thought been more apt.

 

Written by Georgina Grier,

Contributor

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