Monday, January 02, 2017

Portrait of a First Lady: Natalie Portman is Revelatory in “Jackie”

Natalie Portman is to “Jackie” what Helen Mirren was to “The Queen.” The films are not dissimilar; both follow a well-known female public figure of the highest order during the aftermath of a shocking tragedy – though they are miles apart stylistically. “The Queen” dealt with the death of Princess Diana. “Jackie” deals with the deal of President John F. Kennedy. “Jackie” is an interesting study because it wisely fails to the follow the traditional biopic route in favor of a week-long portrait of grief and loss. Portman gives a bravura performance that transcends imitation. She creates a full-bodied character who goes through a wringer of emotions and gives the real-life woman the dignity she deserved. “Jackie” is fascinatingly directed and captures a brief but potent and prominent moment of American history in a completely compelling and intimate way.

“Jackie” is a completely different type of film from “JFK” but I think they work amazingly well together. “JFK” was about the aftermath of the presidential assassination from a completely different point of view. It dealt with conspiracy theories and is one of the most well put together narrative films of all time.  “Jackie” is a film about the assassination we’ve really never seen before: it’s from the point of view of the woman who sat next to her own husband as he was assassinated. The film takes place right before and after the assassination via flashbacks as Jackie Kennedy (Portman) is interviewed by a journalist played by Billy Crudup in her Cape Cod home. Many films who use the flashback during interview concept can find the film to be disjointed but not “Jackie” the technique is used to perfection mostly due to Portman’s riveting performance.

Director Pablo Larrain captures everything the public thought about Jackie Kennedy in the best way possible. The fragmented nature of the script by Noah Oppenheim and Larrain’s direction perfectly captures Jackie’s disjointed mindset that comes with dealing with such a shocking, tragic situation. We see her as she goes through the various stages of grief. We see her tell her young children about how their father had to go to heaven. It’s heartbreaking. She also wants to make sure her husband’s brief tenure as president is remembered in a way that made him the great president that he’s remembered for being.

“Jackie” is a beautifully compelling film. It features terrific cinematography that uses all the various film stocks of the time and beautifully recreates history. Mica Levi’s haunting score is almost otherworldly yet oddly appropriate. The performances are truly remarkable. Portman amazes; all her nuances ring true even some of her somewhat over-the-top private moments in the white house that probably didn’t happen but no one knows for sure. This isn’t a documentary after all. Peter Sarsgaard is equally great as Bobby Kennedy. “Jackie” doesn’t follow any of the standard biopic rules because it isn’t a standard biopic; it’s so much more. It’s a portrait of one of the most mystifying American public figures of the 20th century and Portman certainly does her justice.  GRADE: A- 



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