Amongst the magnitude of releases this awards season, a performance from a beloved modern actress such as Natalie Portman would only be fitting to round off a collection of class-act renditions, ranging from original screenplays where characters are spawned from the minds of its intricate creator, or, like this, based on true life — a challenge one can understand proves sometimes more complicated than those based on fiction.
The portrait of one of America’s most refined First Ladies is painted by director Pablo Larrain and writer Noah Oppenheim. Natalie Portman carries the biopic, focusing primarily on the moments after her husband John F. Kennedy is assassinated, honing in on Jackie’s need to deal with her own personal grief, trauma, her children, battles with her own faith and the ideas to continue her husband’s legacy.
The camera flows freely through the pristine hallways of one the most famous homes on the planet. It’s as fresh, intricate, clean and cookie-cutter on the surface as the occupants who resided amongst its echoed halls in the years of 1961-63. As Jackie infamously garnered critical praise and applause for her triumphant televised debut giving the tour of the house and won her first Emmy for said tour, little did she know the future that was in store.
Played by a natural, exquisite beauty like Portman, Jackie’s infamy lives through her eyes. A psyche battered through a peering audience; a nation and a world seeking answers after the untimely death of Jackie’s spouse, partner and America’s leader. The performance is refined and poised, sporting all characteristics of the First Lady’s enormously publicised presence and then some. An intimate and delicate portrayal into the personal trauma of Jackie’s life post-assassination is heartbreaking as she queries her own faith whilst seeking answers, taking care of her two children and attempting to continue her husband’s legacy at the same time her, and brother Bobby (played by Peter Sarsgaard), seek to discover what the legacy truly was.
The standard biopic eschews generalisation, handled with a tremendous amount of particular care and maintains vast amounts of complexities through a piercing intimacy held through its core performance. A tight-knit focus, often quite literally, on Jackie’s emotional and hard-hitting sorrow is a polarising and startlingly raw vision of a First Lady whose own perspective is questioned through a momentum of insurmountable grief. Here is a character study written with depth and accuracy and a performance that successfully reiterates with grand evocations.
Continuing his work when nobody else could or would, Jackie’s exhausting temperament after his assassination is portrayed with exasperated attempts, seeking understanding and clarity to fully reiterate his stature as one of America’s greatest leaders. And to emphasise such ideals, a funeral that demanded the world’s attention was on Jackie’s agenda. A desperate attempt at a wife’s continuation, even if what her great leader brought to the table wasn’t anything to parallel the others who had the opportunity to stay in the White House.
Director Larrain has achieved the impossible; Jackie is cinema at its most grand, creating and fully idealising an iconic woman with so much publicised footage to discredit a possibility of anybody fulfilling the character with a wholly realised performance. And for Portman, an unsurprising turn from a talent that may indeed be one of her most polarising and effective performances to date. Jackie is hypnotising cinema; a depth that’s unparalleled in its raw and intimate nature and one that displays an icon in full form that will delight and/or inform any of those known to the icon herself or anybody unclear who seek insight into a part of the Kennedy’s life in the White House and the demise that struck a nation and bruised a politician’s wife so spectacularly riddled with the public eye.
Dir: Pablo Larrain
Scr: Noah Oppenheim
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant
Prd: Darren Aronofsky
Music: Mica Levi
DOP: Stéphane Fontaine
Runtime: 100 minutes