This is something of a unique viewing, in that I’ve not actually seen a trailer for it. That sure doesn’t happen very often. Sure wish it was as easy to avoid a Star Wars trailer. I hate going in with preconceptions. Anyway, even though I haven’t seen a microsecond of footage, I do have an idea of what the story involves. It’s about Jackie Kennedy post-assassination and how she dealt with it.
Lets take a gander at the cast. Front and center is the acclaimed and popular Natalie Portman. Hard-pressed to find anyone who dislikes her and for good reason. In any movie that she’s been in, from the not-so-great (STAR WARS EPISODE I ) to the best (V FOR VENDETTA ), she usually churns out a quality and likable performance. Since biopics are all the rage these days, and a nice way to get some credibility under your belt, I had no doubts that Portman would deliver exactly what the critics were raving about. In supporting roles we have Peter Sarsgaard (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN , JARHEAD , and ORPHAN ) as Bobby Kennedy, as well as Greta Gerwig (WIENER-DOG , NO STRINGS ATTACHED , GREENBERG , and the upcoming 20th CENTURY WOMEN [2016/17]), Billy Crudup (SPOTLIGHT , ALMOST FAMOUS , WATCHMEN , as well as the upcoming 20TH CENTURY WOMEN [2016/17] and ALIEN: COVENANT ), and John Hurt (HERCULES , V FOR VENDETTA , and ALIEN ).
Now for behind the scenes. Pablo Larraín is the director who is considered to be one of Chile’s greatest directors. Pretty sure this film makes it his biggest and most well-known movie in America. Writing the script is Noah Oppenheim, known for only The Divergent series ALLEGIANT (2016) and THE MAZE RUNNER (2014). Composing the music is relative newcomer Mica Levi, known only for UNDER THE SKIN (2014). Finally, the cinematographer is Stéphane Fontaine, known for ELLE (2016), CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016), and THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010).
Overall, I like Portman, and the story sounds interesting, so we’ll see how I feel. This is my honest opinion of JACKIE.
The story is told through flashback. Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is being interviewed by a journalist (Billy Crudup) about what exactly she remembers directly after the assassination of her husband, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).
On a side note, Merry Christmas, and happy holidays to one and all! Hope it’s been great!
Anywho, this might be a tad short as… honestly, I don’t have much to say about it. Now, please, don’t take that as me saying it’s a bad movie. Far from it, in fact. It’s full of great acting from everyone, but… I don’t know, I just don’t love it like a lot of the critics do. Maybe it’ll hit me as I write it.
Portman pulls out a wonderful and empathy-fueled performance, with a hint of complexity. In Jackie’s interview, she basically comes right out and states that what she tells the journalist isn’t necessarily the truth, but her truth. And once the flashbacks start and you see her covered in blood, it’s actually pretty heart-wrenching to see her in such shock. She has no idea how to react and seems to be in a complete daze.
If I’m not mistaken, there was a famous TV news episode where the world was given a tour of the White House and Jackie was the show’s tour guide. There’s a hint of humor to see how not entirely comfortable she is with being in front of the camera, but she still takes it all in stride and holds her own. But what’s really cool about these sequences is that they’re actually filmed (or made to look like) with those old-timey cameras, almost like the audience is traveling back in time to see what that episode was. Although I have to say that I think it would have been more artistically interesting if they changed it up a bit. Like, what if when the news cameras weren’t rolling, we would obviously see Portman as Jackie. Getting her make-up done, talking to her friend, things of that nature, but as soon as the cameras are rolling, we see the real-life Jackie giving the tour. I don’t know, I think it’d be a pretty awesome tribute to the actual woman, to see her actual face, hear her actual voice, and do a couple of quick cuts between both real-Jackie and Portman-Jackie emulating her perfectly. Hell, I’m watching bits of the documentary that’s featured in the film, and Portman does a remarkably pinpoint job of getting Jackie’s accent down. As I understand it, Portman needed a coach and that accent wasn’t easy. I can’t say I blame her. Jackie’s accent does seem a tad abnormal from traditional southern accents. But hey, I’m a uncultured swine. What do I know? But seriously, on a side note, the documentary is pretty interesting. I’ll post the link below.
I probably could go on and on about Portman’s acting, but I think most people get it and… yeah, that’s pretty much what holds up the movie. I mean, I suppose it’s interesting to see the process in which Jackie took to make JFK’s funeral one for the ages and what kind of opposition she faced. You know, provided the film didn’t take creative liberties with that. She took solace in a priest, she and Robert Kennedy didn’t always see eye to eye, and she was a rampaging bull that didn’t let a damn thing get in her way. Again, all as long as the film didn’t take creative liberties.
You know what, maybe that is my issue with the film, in that it has absolutely nothing to do with the film itself. I guess I do find a very real fascination with the woman and I always have a constant wariness about trusting a medium known for fiction or fictionalizing non-fiction. I mean, from what little I’ve looked up, Jackie had a sharp eye to the political figures she was constantly around, like later-President Lyndon B. Johnson, and many others. In one recording, she’d say that the Kennedys and the Johnsons were all good friends, but in her secret recordings, she’d reveal that JFK would say, “Can you imagine what this country would be in store for if Johnson was President?” I’m paraphrasing, by the way, and it’s not like the film doesn’t tackle the harsher side of who Jackie was as a person, but… I don’t know, maybe this will end up being a similar reaction I had to THE RUNAWAYS (2010). The movie itself may not be to my liking, but documentary EDGEPLAY (2004) about the all-female rock band was wholly more fascinating. Perhaps by viewing this movie, I’ll end up watching more interviews of Jackie and develop my own sense of who the real woman is and develop an appreciation for a real historical figure that I never had before.
And suddenly, I think it just hit me why this movie wasn’t as effective on me as it was with others. Throughout the film, Jackie is trying to deal with her husband’s murder to the best of her abilities. As powerful as Portman’s acting is, there unfortunately isn’t a strong enough connection that I had with her emotions because JFK himself is such a bit character by comparison. I’m sure there’s going to be a few folks out there telling me that if JFK was used in the film more, it would run the risk of the focus being taken off of Jackie. While I admit that’d be hard to deny, it would also give some deeper insight into how much she loved JFK, why she loved him, and felt as passionate about their political responsibilities as he does, and what drove her into getting her own projects going, or however that worked. Because I personally didn’t have a connection with JFK, it was difficult to relate to Jackie’s emotional state on that level. We sure empathize with her, that’s not in question, but we can’t feel what she feels. Empathy, not connection.
As the film stands as a whole, it’s very good. If you’re a fan of Portman, don’t miss out. She’s uncannily perfect as Jackie. Complex, emotional, strong, and utterly compelling, there’s something here to take away and it’s damn good. Maybe it’s not my favorite film of the year, but it’s easily the best that Portman’s delivered.
My honest rating for JACKIE: a strong 4/5
Once again, happy holidays, everyone! Before long, I’ll be compiling my “Top 10” and “Bottom 10” lists of this year. But I do have more reviews on the way, so here’s to a great rest of this year.