By Jack Dignan
It was a time of grief, a time of loss. Jackie Kennedy sat in the backseat of a car, her husband dead in her arms. Blood smears the back of the car, chunks of brain spread out all over the place. It’s a horrifying sight, especially for poor Jackie Kennedy. Tragedy had struck, and it was a tragedy that would affect the nation. The American president had just been assassinated. Everyone’s heard the story, but not everyone’s heard this story, making Jackie an important and unique movie that gives light to a new perspective from this heart-wrenching event.
With her husband (Caspar Phillipson) assassinated, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) isn’t sure of what to do with herself. She was the first lady of the United States, but now, no more. That, however, is the least of her worries, as her husband’s passing hits her with a strike of grief and depression. It strikes hard, effecting her day-to-day life and relationship with friends and family, and that’s where this film comes along. In the days following JFK’s assassination, Jackie attempts to rekindle her faith and find hope in the future, despite all hope seemingly gone.
The assassination of JFK has been dealt with in several films before, most famously Oliver Stone’s 1991 masterpiece that’s simply, and appropriately, titled JFK. What hasn’t been dealt with on film before is the story of JFK’s beloved wife, Jackie, who serves as the protagonist and titular character of this story. As one could imagine, being the first lady of the United States is quite the job in its own right, so when JFK is killed, it does a lot to her. It hits her hard, as it would with the death of anyone’s partner, and watching this tragedy unfold in a crowded, befuddled week is fascinating.
The levity of the situation is definitely present, the intercut narrative simluationsuly showcasing her initial grief and struggle to accept it in the days that follow. The intercut narrative works for the film, adding to the insanity and the chaos of the situation. It puts you in the shoes of Jackie, and they’re shoes that aren’t fun to be in. Still, it’s exceptionally well made, a true craftsmanship of a movie. Director Pablo Larraín has clearly put a lot of effort into the making of this movie, the cinematography and editing a true marvel. The camera work is beautiful and intimate, occasionally integrating real life footage into some of the scenes to create even further authenticity.
Taking on the title role is Natalie Portman, who just received a Golden Globe nomination for her efforts. The thing about Natalie Portman is that she can be very hit or miss when it comes to her performances. There are some absolute gems in her filmography, even winning a much-deserved Oscar for her role in Black Swan, but her performances can also be quite awful. Just look at her work on the Star Wars prequels if you want to see just how bad she can get. When it comes to Jackie, she constantly lingers between being really good and really bad, and the line becomes blurred. There were times where I loved her and times where I didn’t, and while there’s mummers of Oscar buzz surrounding her performance, I really hope she doesn’t get it. There have definitely been better female performances this year.
What this movie is, though, is an interesting look at grief and the madness that followed the death of JFK, as told through the perspective of Jackie. While this is an insightful and often entertaining experience, it isn’t too eventful of a movie. Little actually goes on in this film, merely a showcase of Jackie’s depression and attempts at dealing with such a loss. There are plenty of impactful moments scattered throughout, a shot of her showering with blood dripping down her back sure to haunt many viewers, but there simply isn’t a plot good enough to sustain a feature length runtime. The film needed more bite, even if it (occasionally successfully) attempts to hide its lack of plot through a back and forth narrative.
To sum up, Jackie was a film that has everything it needs to work, however I wanted to love a lot more than I did. It’s entertaining and insightful, providing a deep and thorough look into Jackie’s mind, but it’s lacking much-needed bite, and Natalie Portman just didn’t do enough for me to love her performance.
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