Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is a curious affair. It’s hard to know exactly how to categorise it. Whilst feeling like something of a niche piece, it’s been very ably assembled on what is clearly a considerable budget.
What is clear, however, is that it is very much the perfect vehicle through which to extol the virtues of the excellent Natalie Portman. Jackie places under the microscope one Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a woman who awoke one morning America’s first lady, but ended the day a grieving widow, owing to the sudden and savage assassination of her husband. Almost overnight her star would wane, and Jackie Kennedy would be rather unceremoniously shunted aside, fast becoming yesterday’s news, yet ironically her name remains to this day synonymous with one of the most infamous events of modern times.
Of course, to suggest that Jackie Kennedy could ever have become yesterday’s news in light of her worldly profile and the sheer magnitude of the shattering and controversial events of November the 22nd, 1963, is merely to exaggerate a point.
Still, the suddenness of the upheaval brought about in her life was genuinely alarming.
These life-changing, unsettling events become the subject of an interview that she reluctantly and guardedly gives a few weeks after the event, having now moved out of the White House and into a more remote, low-key (relatively speaking) dwelling.
The discourse that follows very much shapes the narrative of Larrain’s film, blending tales from The White House and her role in John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s presidency, with tales from her more immediate past in which she busily oversaw her husband’s memorial and funeral arrangements, whilst simultaneously sustaining her family’s day-to-day needs.
It must have been a demanding time, although admittedly one that it is rather difficult to fully empathise with given Jackie’s somewhat atypical removed status from general society.
Portman’s portrayal of the rather elegant and demure former first lady is a precision piece of character acting, with seemingly just as much dedication given to accurately capturing the woman’s every last subtle idiosyncrasy as there is to depicting her struggle under exceptional circumstances.
And it makes for a fascinating spectacle; especially – I should imagine – for those that may harbour a particular infatuation with the people and events of that particular microcosm of time.
Mrs Kennedy is portrayed as an extremely dignified, yet fairly contrary figure, exhibiting a need to sustain some level of control at all times, which would of course have been more than understandable given her circumstances. Such a stance makes for a compellingly attritional interview. An understated performance of great presence from Billy Crudup – playing as he does a master of his journalistic trade, gently and respectfully probing for the pertinent answers – serves as the perfect foil for Jackie’s cagey, and at times almost riddlesome line in answering.
Visually and stylistically, Jackie is at once impressively grandiose, whilst simultaneously achingly cool in that thick-rimmed spectacled, designer Danish, mid-nineteenth Century manner. Successfully blending archive historical footage with actual cast members, whilst electing to shoot the piece in a format that’s suitably sympathetic with the times in which it is set, gives Jackie a certain authenticity, and the whole thing hangs together beautifully through Mica Levi’s remarkable score. Punctuated and stately in a late Baroque / early Classical sense, yet oddly contemporary through its use of chromaticism, and some surprising glissando, almost portamento scoring techniques, it lends the piece an elegantly ceremonial yet eerie quality.
Jackie is not a film that will necessarily set the pulses racing, and certainly don’t be expecting this to be some kind of latter-day whodunnit. I also wouldn’t imagine that it will be a film to garner a huge amount of interest outside of its core niche target audience. But given that that particular niche just so happens to be a fairly sizeable one, Pablo Larraín’s decision to create a biopic concerning the plight of such an iconic figure of twentieth century America, ultimately can’t fail to be justified.