What did we truly accomplish?. . . History is harsh. We’re ridiculous. Look at you.
In Jackie, Natalie Portman really gives the performance of a lifetime as the grieving Jacqueline Kennedy. The film takes place almost entirely in the week following JFK’s assassination and Portman manages to dig below the façade to give a genuinely great performance. She looks uncannily like Jackie and finds both a real vulnerability and a steely strength as she balances, or rather fails to balance, her personal grief and her desire to secure a public legacy for her dead husband. It’s definitely Portman’s show, but she has good support from a really excellent Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy; he thankfully doesn’t attempt even the slightest impersonation and instead gives a really fine interior performance. Billy Crudup is fantastic as the journalist in the frame story which revolves around an interview given by Jackie only a few days after Kennedy’s death. The scenes between Portman and Crudup are surprisingly compelling; the film gives them a really interesting, very antagonist relationship. For a journalistic and subject, they’re surprisingly unpleasant and they both come across as deeply unlikable in these scenes. John Hurt has a compelling extended cameo as a priest. But the movie’s real achievement is conjuring a really strange atmosphere, a kind of blurry haze. The atmosphere hangs over the film like a thick fog, aided immeasurably by Mica Levi’s haunted score, one of the best of the year. Larrain’s camera refuses to lock us down into time and place; we jump from moment to moment at the speed of a muddled thought, often unsure of where we are in the public narrative of the story: is this a flashback to when Kennedy was alive? Is this the day of the assassination? The day of the funeral? Weeks later? It’s a strange, almost dreamy way to do things and it really works. The film has a lot on its mind as far as things like legacy and myth go. It takes the rather uncomfortable stance that JFK really wasn’t a president of any note and that the myth of Kennedy as an inspiring, historic figure is entirely a fabrication of Jackie’s and the ethically compromised journalist who dislikes everything about the story has to tell, except for the story itself. It’s a really dark movie and a quietly excellent one. It doesn’t quite do anything you expect it to do and at the end of the film, I found myself left in a really strange place, unsure of what to think. It’s an ambiguous film, unafraid to portray its characters in extremely negative light and yet also able to keep a feeling of empathy in the audience. It strikes me as a kind of challenging film, but if you can adjust your pulse to the film, you’ll find something like a masterpiece. 4 stars.
tl;dr – atmospheric direction & a great score bolster a magnificent lead performance by Natalie Portman in this compelling meditation on grief & power. 4 stars.