The Kennedys are a fascinating family, full of intrigue, sorrow, success and blighted by a future they were denied by helicopter accidents, their own personal flaws and most famously of all, a bullet. If any of these references seem alien to you, then I urge you to explore the family history, read their stories, listen to their voices, and watch the many adaptations from over the years exploring the different generations, from Joe to Jack and onto Christopher.
Jackie is one of the more impacting adaptations to have been made in a long succession of TV series, Films and documentaries. The event in question is the moment when beloved President John. F Kennedy was shot in Dallas while riding in the presidential motorcade. He was shot twice, once in the back, and once through his head. Jackie was of course with him in the car, and the film focuses on her grief, her political status and of course their children.
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie is a reminder of the strength of her acting, because although she does have a number of classics attached to her name, for every ‘V For Vendetta’ or ‘Black Swan’ there is a ‘Thor’ film. Which although good, do little to provide her with any substance as she is pushed to the sidelines as a romantic attachment, though now she appears to have parted ways with Marvel, which hopefully frees her to do more films of this nature.
My immediate thought when I began watching his film was, I wonder which came first? The style of filming, or Portman’s performance? I say this because the style in which this film is made is so intelligent, focused and perfect. Each shot transfixes our attention on Jackie, which in turn demands so much from the actor with so many close-ups, particularly her more emotional moments.
The film quickly develops a style which it commits to, for the most part. A mixture of extreme close-ups of Jackie and wide shots of her as she moves through gigantic rooms and buildings. By using close-ups, it creates this intensity, this profound sense of a scrutiny that no doubt mirrored Jackie’s own life when married to JFK. This feeling of intense scrutiny works also to highlight Jackie as an iconic fashion icon, something I will touch upon later. So, Juxtapose the more intimate moments with the wide shots that take in the high-ceilinged rooms, the gigantic houses and the isolated landscape shots, with the tiny figure of Natalie Portman. These intelligent style choices create the intense scrutiny of the press, the family, and the public whilst highlighting JFK sudden absence in her life and her total isolation. Truly then, a fitting atmosphere for a grieving wife of an assassinated President, a club so exclusive that I doubt many people could produce more than one name besides Kennedy.
Granted the accent’s do slip on occasion. Sadly, it seems quite a rare feat for any actor now to be able to sustain a particularly difficult accent throughout a film. Which would be fine except for the moment where John Hurt is on screen. Sadly, this was one of the late actor’s final appearances on film, an iconic actor, but whose accent is unclear in this, and which is made more profound when Portman’s own accent slips.
The clothes, the style and the music are on point for the decade, which is important because there is a materialistic theme that is beautifully woven into this film. In one moment where Jackie returns to her bedroom, for presumably the first time after the assassination, she is alone, a tiny person in a gigantic room and she begins to go through all her belonging, becoming increasingly drunk and playing Jack’s favourite music. It’s a beautifully touching scene of a woman confronting something she may not have wanted to become, a fashion and style iconic. Something which is encapsulated at the very end of the film when she is leaving the city, taking her children away from the madness, and witnesses several mannequins being unloaded from a delivery truck all looking exactly like her. The sight is unnerving for both Jackie and us an audience in the message it conveys, her husband, one of the most powerful men in the country has been killed, and capitalism is already playing its part by profiting from her image.
Besides the occasional accent slip, there is one choice the director Pablo Larrain made that I think is an absolute mistake. In the last 20 minutes of the film, we witness another flashback, and this time John F. Kennedy is brought on to centre stage. Several problems arise here. Not only does he not look the part, he feels like a last-minute addition that was never fully thought through in an otherwise intelligently crafted film. One could argue that this speaks to Jackie dream of her husband’s return, but it just doesn’t still well. By introducing him as a visible character, rather than alluding to his presence by using his image, as is shown near the start of the film, you make Jackie redundant. All those scenes of her in large rooms, personifying her isolation and separation from civilisation are now now lost, to an extent, their desired effect. JFK should be a legend, a myth, a figure there but always just out of sight. In this film, Jackie should have remained the centre of attention, a character who has been under such intense focus from the start.
Despite some larger mistakes, the camera work is a masterfully done and the combination of continual close-ups, wide shots and Natalie Portman’s performance, really make this into something great. Culminating in a sombre reflective feeling, the type you might expect if you were to attend a funeral which speaks to the success of the film.
OVERALL ****– A perfectly filmed depiction of Jackie, an amazing performance by Natalie Portman but almost ruined by the director’s inability to restrain himself from using John F. Kennedy at the end, thereby losing that intimate intensity he so well orchestrated by the rest of the film.
RECOMMENDATION- I would hope everyone is aware of this story, though perhaps not from Jackie’s perspective. So I highly recommend this film, with the understanding that you should watch something lighter after. Oh and one last thing, go and read about the Kennedy’s if you haven’t already, I implore you.