Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín doesn’t have a ton of experience as a director, but of the seven films he has directed, the most recent four have been critically praised. His film NO was nominated for an Academy Award and there’s a chance he’ll get another one with Neruda this year. But his latest film and first foray into the English language is getting very high marks for its incredible performance by Natalie Portman, who plays the iconic First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, aka Jackie O.
The aptly titled Jackie follows Jackie Kennedy as she deals with the aftermath of her husband’s assassination. Her mission is to preserve his legacy, deal with her children in an appropriate way and somehow manage her grief and faith as she struggles with the trauma that she experienced on that terrible day.
The film’s storytelling takes an interesting approach. It’s told through an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) utilizing flashbacks from the assassination all the way up to the burial of John F Kennedy, but not necessarily in that order. It’s choppy yet somehow works really well in order to convey the devastating emotions that Jackie is feeling and why she acted the way she did in the days following the assassination.
Furthermore, the interaction between the journalist and Jackie, while sad, were also rather comical so it helped to break up the incredibly depressing flashbacks that take up most of the film’s runtime. Those raw and heavy moments are something that really sink in as you are sucked into the film and I’m sure they’re even more impactful for many American baby boomers who remember this horrific incident and may have even witnessed it live.
As you might have suspected, the acting is solid all around thanks to the quality performances from Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and John Hurt, but the reason to see the film is Natalie Portman. She once again proves why she is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood. This film will no doubt garner her a second Academy Award nomination as her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy is spot on. I had never heard Jackie Onassis speak prior to this film and had to go home and compare Natalie’s voice to hers just to make sure it was accurate. The main reason I did that is because her voice is nasally, which was not only distracting for me but also rather annoying. The result: Natalie’s impression was perfect. That, coupled with an excellent visual transformation, allowed Natalie Portman to truly embody Jackie, giving the world a nearly flawless portrayal of the beloved former First Lady.
Personally, I found Jackie to be a very educational film. I didn’t learn much about Jackie Kennedy in social studies class, the focus was always on John and the handful of things he either accomplished or failed at while in office. For me, learning that she remained in her blood stained pink dress all day after the assassination of her husband or that she opened up the White House to the public by giving them a visual tour on TV are important pieces of knowledge for me. As she reiterates many times throughout her famous White House interview, history is important and it is crucial to know about the past. This film is a looking glass into the past and a film many Americans should see even if it’s a simple educational refresher for them.
While I don’t think the movie itself was amazing, it is a solid, evenhanded feature that shouldn’t be missed. It’s not Best Picture material but it is a beautiful film that’s tenderly directed so as to provide a realistic portrayal of Jackie and her pain. With wonderful cinematography, a well written script, and excellent costume design (or replication), this actor’s showcase is certainly the highlight of this weekend’s film releases and will certainly be a contender this Oscar season.