I want them to see what they have done to Jack.
Throughout the ages, there have been a slew of films (and documentaries) that have tried to deconstruct the shocking events that took place on November 22nd, 1963 — when America’s 35th president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated whilst traveling in a presidential motorcade through downtown Dallas. From Oliver Stone’s controversial 1991 flick JFK, which trails a skeptical New Orleans District Attorney on his radical investigation into the truth behind JFK’s death, to 2013’s Parkland, a historical drama that looks at the Kennedy assassination through the eyes of various people who were there on that fateful day. None, however, have focused on the First Lady, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Kennedy.
Less of a biopic and more of an intimate character study, Jackie follows the traumatic days of the First Lady in the wake of her husband’s assassination, particularly her shock and isolation as she prepares to bury her other half. Framed around an interview, which takes place between Jackie (a haunting Natalie Portman) and an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup), in her Hyannis Port, Massachusetts home — the film basically using Theodore H. White’s Life magazine interview as inspiration — Jackie merges events from the week leading up to the burial, with snippets of her time during her husband’s presidential reign, to create an personal portrait of a mourning widow trying to hold it together.
The first English language feature from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín, The Club (2015), Jackie isn’t afraid to get into the nitty-gritty almost right away, viewers hit with a terrifying glimpse into the psyche of a shattered icon. Rushed onto Air Force One minutes after her husband’s attack, we see a shaken Jackie compose herself, then wipe his blood off her face, with Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) being quickly sworn into power a mere two hours after JFK’s death — a sharp reminder that the political wheels keep on turning, even after such an ordeal. It isn’t until the First Lady reaches the White House that she removes her pink, blood-spatted Chanel dress, the shell-shocked Jackie finally breaking down in the shower — these moments elevated by a poignant, string-heavy score by Mica Levi of Micachu & The Shapes.
Instead of trying to encapsulate Jackie’s entire life in a standard bio-drama format, director Larraín chooses to look at the small moments in the aftermath of the infamous shooting, the script by Noah Oppenheim, The Maze Runner (2014), honing in on the titular figure as she consoles her young children, prepares for the next President to move into the White House and plans her beloved’s funeral, Jackie striving to maintain control over how history would forever remember his legacy. You see, it was Jacqueline Kennedy who initially linked the Kennedy administration to ‘Camelot’ — the mythical kingdom ruled by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table — a lyric from the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical reverberating with her late husband’s time in office; ‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.’
Interspersed throughout the film, we also follow the photogenic Jackie as she takes viewers on a tour of the $2 million restoration of the White House, which she helped oversee in the first year of her husband’s term (turning her home into a showcase of American history and culture), this walkthrough airing on a 1962 network TV special titled, A Tour of the White House With Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Throughout these segments, we see a very different side of the First Lady as she discusses her various renovations whilst packing away her children’s toys — a scene in which she speaks about Lincoln’s widow (in his restored bedroom) eerily foreshadowing her inevitable fate.
While certainly unique, this nonlinear structure can be a little muddling for some, chiefly those unfamiliar with the surrounding events, the feature jumping from happier times at various White House functions, to Jackie’s telly appearance (where she struggles to maintain an artificial smile), these intercut with dealings from the week leading up to JFK’s funeral in Arlington National Cemetery — where we eventually see him put to rest beside an eternal flame — the film mixing archival news footage and recordings from the era with superb studio recreations.
But this is Natalie’s film, Portman topping her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan (2010) with another transformative performance. ‘Don’t think for one minute I’m going to let you publish that,’ says Mrs. Kennedy while recalling her last minutes with her husband (Caspar Phillipson), laying out her terms whilst being interviewed by Crudup’s reporter, Portman balancing the First Lady’s fragility with strength, exhibiting her poised presence while in the public eye, along with the misery and despair she suffered in private. The brittle voice, the elegant grace and posture, Portman nails it all — the actress destined to nab another gold trophy come awards season. Peter Sarsgaard, Jarhead (2005), on the other hand, is an odd choice to play Robert F. Kennedy, John’s brother (given that he doesn’t resemble the guy in the slightest), the 45-year-old doing his best to portray Bobby’s anger and pain, revealing some of the flaws or frailties he may have had. Elsewhere, John Hurt, V for Vendetta (2005), is solid as a Catholic priest whom Jackie speaks to about her late husband’s shortcomings as a spouse, whereas Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha (2012), has a small role as Nancy Tuckerman, Jackie’s devoted personal assistant.
Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin and Ari Handel — the team behind The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) — Jackie might be a bit too bleak and depressing for some, the film, a hardened, close-up look into the heart and mind of Jacqueline Kennedy and how myths are ultimately made. For me, however, it was the sight of Jackie’s distraught reaction after seeing her beloved shot dead — his brain tissue falling onto their limousine — that hit me hardest.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Jackie is released through eOne Films Australia