Review: Jackie (2016)




Pablo Larraín


Noah Oppenheim


100 min.


Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella

MPAA Rating

R for brief strong violence and some language

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We’ve seen the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in numerous films over the years. We’ve never seen a portrait of Jackie Kennedy or the turmoil of her life in those fateful moments just before and after the tragedy, but in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, we get that with a stirring portrait of grief.

Pablo Larrain’s film starring Natalie Portman as the titular First Lady is a dense, contemplative saga that gives Jackie a loving, respectful, and stark exploration. Taking us through her life with John Fitzgerald Kennedy up to and long after his assassination, the film is most concerned with presenting Jacqueline Kennedy as human, a distraught mother dealing with constant tragedy, never quite able to relinquish her sadness, but not wanting to make a public spectacle out of it.

Portman is utterly magnificent as the former first lady. Her utter charm and warmth displayed on the tour she gave of the White House as well as her despondence, sorrow, and anger following her husband’s death are powerful. Portman melds into Jackie’s cadence and body language with ease, presenting a near-perfect portrait of someone whom the public only knew so much about. Conveying her speech patterns, physical appearance, and movements was only a small portion of the enchanting and mesmerizing performance Portman gives. It’s a classic turn that would feel at home in any era of cinema history, a brilliant turn deserving of eternal memory.

As the setting has been replicated many times in the past, the strong production design was to be expected, but even with the familiarity we all have with Jackie, her pill box hats, and her iconic watermelon pink Chanel suit, they were each affectionately recreated. They even helped play into the somber color palette of Stéphane Fontaine’s gorgeous photography.

Larrain’s sixth feature is his first in English and like many other Spanish-language directors, he’s made the transition to American cinema with great finesse. This skilled narrative flows well in spite of the timeworn framing device employed herein, a latter-day interview flashing back to events of the past. Those moments in the recent past help guide the audience in compelling and thought-provoking ways. This interwoven segment is an exploration of the sensationalist journalism that would become commonplace today, and is only a small portion of the brilliance of the whole. That she was able to forcefully prevent her interviewer from using the material he had collected and of which she did not explicitly approve was a testament to her strength of character.

With all of the stellar production values and a lead performance as riveting as this, then throwing in a superb and haunting musical score by Mica Levi, Jackie is a movie of unrivaled passion and poignancy. The audience is skillfully transported into an era nearly 60 years removed from our own, but whose resonant cultural identity has long permeated modern society and whose secrets remain strangely locked behind doors of propriety. This film opens one such door and the brief glimpse into the grief, fervency, and anger feels all the more personal and evocative.

Review Written

June 20, 2019

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