Jackie is directed by Pablo Larrain and stars Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Peter Skarsgaard and John Hurt.
This is a multi-layered film which is difficult for me to talk about because while I appreciate the aesthetic sense of it and the story being told, I frankly just did not enjoy watching this. The film is a character study, obviously, of Jacqueline Kennedy but is played like a dirge, a mournful remembrance of a turning point in the history of the United States as symbolized by the sudden and wholly unexpected change in Jackie’s life when her husband, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated.
Natalie Portman is the single focus of the film, with other characters who have already been the subject of a number of other films play supporting roles such as Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. We get to look into her mind as she relates her thoughts and feelings to Life magazine journalist Theodore H. White. Always guarded, always in control, Jackie was a woman who was very mindful of her public persona, her position and the authority these granted her. Only in the most secret of conversations with a priest, as played by the late John Hurt, and in short bursts of emotion while talking with the journalist does she let her innermost thoughts come to the surface and she is always immediately mindful to make sure those statements are kept off the record.
I realize that even though Jacqueline Kennedy retreated from public life after her husband’s death, remarried and spent the last 20 years of her life as a book editor, that she was remembered for her style and grace and is one of the most popular and admired people in modern history. I don’t really share any of that personally. I’ve never been a big fan of hers or the idea of American royalty which she personified.
This is Chilean director Larrain’s first English film. He’s a widely praised and acknowledge maker of political films, but I’ve not seen any of them so I don’t know much about his style or direction. Judging from this film alone, he worked hard to make it as drab in color and spirit as he could. Given the subject matter, I can understand why, yet this drabness extends even to the scenes before the assassination, when they recreate in minute detail the filmed tour Jackie gave of the White House as the First Lady, explaining the historic makeover she brought to her new home and why preserving a sense of history was important to her, even if many, including her husband, derided her efforts and called it a vanity project.
To my eyes and as told in this movie, Jackie Kennedy was a very sad, even despondent woman, having lost two children in their infancy and eventually losing so many more who were close to her. Natalie Portman captures that sadness in every detail and there really aren’t any flaws in her performance. Billy Crudup starts off as a bit of smarmy reporter who thinks he understands what Jackie is all about but by the end, he has been subdued by her directness and her unexpected intelligence, even if she didn’t sway me as an audience member. I just found the whole movie to be a lament for times long gone and I couldn’t really connect with it.
Perhaps the biggest reason I was challenged in this was the very dark overtures of Mica Levi, who did the score. The music was frankly so loud and overbearing in setting mood that it distracted me to no end. I’m sure this was done on purpose and again, I understand why but I didn’t enjoy being subjected to it.
The technical aspects of the film were fine, if uninspired in many ways. The recreations of historical films Jackie was in, both the White House tour and others, were very well done. Other than Natalie Portman, no other performances particularly stand out as exceptional. It’s clear why the Oscar committee gave Portman a Best Actress nomination, but I’ll be very surprised if she actually wins because there were better performances in much better films this year.
I’m reluctant to give this film a negative rating but for me, it’s just not that inspired or interesting and not really worth taking two hours of your time to watch. Therefore, I’m giving Jackie a rating of Meh. Those who are interested in very dark and sedated documentary style film making will I’m sure enjoy this film and that is no hit on anyone. It’s just not my thing. I did not really learn anything watching this and other than appreciating Natalie Portman’s performance, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I know.
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