Jackie, which has been showing at Images for the past week, provides a glimpse into the life of First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the days immediately following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The film employs a non-linear narrative and narrow focus to avoid the pitfall of familiarity often found in biopics. In Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, one can certainly feel the influence of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which focused only on the final four months of Lincoln’s life rather than attempting to detail his entire life.
There are a few key differences, however; while Jackie primarily focuses on the time between JFK’s assassination and his funeral a few days later, the movie additionally interweaves footage of Jackie Kennedy’s 1961 live tour of the White House, as well as her interview with Life magazine’s Theodore H. White in the days following the funeral. The footage from the White House tour provides a particularly nice contextual touch and prevents Jackie from veering into formulaic biopic territory. Additionally, the scope of Jackie expands beyond understanding Jackie Kennedy as a singular figure and aims further to capture the historical context of JFK’s assassination and the general feelings associated with the event. The movie is certainly about Jackie Kennedy, but it is also about seeing a historic moment in American history through her eyes.
Like Lincoln, Larrain’s Jackie is anchored by an absolutely fantastic lead performance. Natalie Portman stars in the titular role and turns in one of the finest performances of the year, absolutely deserving her Oscar nomination. Portman fully immerses herself in the role and, despite her star power, the audience feels like it is watching Jackie Kennedy rather than a showboating Natalie Portman overacting in search of that Oscar victory. Not to take anything away from Portman, but she is certainly aided by the noticeably excellent costume and makeup design, which was also nominated for an Oscar. Overall, the technical filmmaking is quite strong in Jackie. The movie exhibits some great long-duration shots, particularly on Portman’s character. Jackie also boasts an exceptionally well-done score, with heavy strings adding tension at perfect moments in the film.
Aside from Portman’s standout performance, the most impressive part of Jackie is the surprising amount of character development achieved in the character of Jackie Kennedy. The focus on Jackie’s mindset, personality and character rather than on the events of her life allows the movie to have a bit more life than most biopics. Jackie is not going to go to unexpected places or really push the envelope of your movie-viewing experience, but it will draw you in and make you care more than you might expect.
Jackie probably is not the type of movie that you are likely to revisit again and again, and it does not have the kind of depth that will necessarily reward multiple viewings. For me, I think one of the most intriguing parts of Jackie is how those from different generations might experience the movie. For some students, Jackie may present relatively new information; after all, we are a generation that has come to know John F. Kennedy through history textbooks. Yet for those Americans who lived through the presidency and assassination of Kennedy, the film must have been an entirely different experience. Lines from Jackie Kennedy or Attorney General Robert Kennedy were met with cheers from the older members of the crowd at Images. For them, the characters depicted are not names from textbooks brought to life, but rather very real figures from their life, people who were influential politicians and pop culture icons. Jackie seemed, in a word, to prove more personal for those who had experienced these years themselves. The fact that Jackie means different things to different people inherently makes it a more interesting movie. In addition to its solid cinematography and outstanding lead performance, this adds yet another layer of intrigue to the movie.
Natalie Portman immerses herself in the role of Jackie Kennedy to deliver an authentic performance. Photo courtesy of Teaser Trailer.