Release Date: December 2nd, 2016 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Pablo Larrain Actors: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Sara Verhagen, Helene Kuhn
n 1963, at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, Jaqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) speaks to a reporter (Billy Crudup) just one week after her husband’s assassination. She’s sad but reserved, and with significant composure, despite harboring spite at the bitter writing that has surfaced from the press, so quickly after the President’s demise. Through this interview, the whole country hopes to discover what she’ll do next; the journalist wants the truth, but he’ll settle for a believable story.
A flashback to the 1961 tour of the White House demonstrates Jackie’s poise, even as the third-youngest of all First Ladies, while also bringing to the surface the controversial renovations that caused speculations about wasted taxpayer money. The use of a timeline that jumps around, soon shifting into the fateful Dallas day when John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) climbed aboard his motorcade, is distracting but somewhat necessary, considering that it creates a more complex structure around which to build a narrative that is mostly just talking heads. However, since the meat of the picture only encompasses approximately one week, it should have been possible to relate everything chronologically. Additionally, several shots are made to look like archival footage, which makes little sense, since the viewer is supposed to be watching as if seeing things in the present day of the ’60s, not from a television set or from the future.
Although the film may not reveal much beyond what the American public already knows (at least, for those who followed the historical events or the publicity surrounding Jackie during the aftermath), it’s intriguing to note the rapidity with which Mrs. Kennedy is pushed aside by all the political and military people who clamored around JFK so regularly – and how curt and callous the transition was, as there’s no room for a former First Lady with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) taking over. However, “Jackie” is very much about small details, recreating a specific time period, costumes and sets, and tiny events that followed the earth-shattering tragedy of a presidential assassination. The scope is limited yet intimate, the camera stays firmly affixed near actors’ faces, and supporting roles include just a handful of associates and family (including Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, and John Hurt as an unnamed priest – given no name, like Crudup’s writer, since only Jackie is of significance here).
“A First Lady must always be ready to pack her suitcases.” “Jackie” is very much a project designed solely to exhibit Natalie Portman’s acting abilities. It cares little about entertainment value or historical context or sensationalism; instead, it’s concerned with attitudes, moods, and behaviors – and how Jackie coped and proceeded with life immediately after such a traumatic, publicly scrutinized catastrophe. Portman does a fine job with it, donning a specific accent and way of speaking, along with unique mannerisms, all of which only betray the underlying actress in rare moments (and something like Marilyn Monroe at others). But even if her convincing transformation can muster the attention of year-end awards-givers, the production as a whole lacks most of the qualities that would make such a story cinematic. It’s melancholy but distant, generating only brief sequences of poignant despondency, and appearing monumental virtually never. A noteworthy leading performance can’t overcome the slowness or the blandness of what is merely a detailed portrait with little else to augment such a narrow perspective.
– Mike Massie