Directed By: Pablo Larraín
Written By: Noah Oppenheim
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Great Gerwig, John Hurt
Runtime: 1 hr 40 minutes
History and drama often make awkward bedfellows as you might find in the bio-pic Jackie (2016). The assassination of JFK is one of the defining moments of the 20th century and any dramatization of the immediate aftermath is a risky venture. History buffs may fault it and others may struggle with its melodramatic interpretation of Jaqueline Kennedy’s life-defining event. But look beyond the cinematic limitations and you find a complex portrait of a remarkable person who endured an unimaginable horror with rare strength and dignity.
The film’s starts with the motorcade in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated and ends with his funeral. The narrative is framed around a journalist’s interview conducted a week after the event and a confessional talk with a priest at the funeral. It uses their questions and comments to trigger flashbacks to the short JFK presidency, with dramatisations that craft together archival footage and historical photographs. The title of the film makes it clear that this is a portrait of Jackie (played by Natalie Portman) so her words, her emotions, and her actions are the primary focus. The film’s narrative tension comes entirely from the depiction of her inner world of private trauma and her struggles with the political and public reaction to the event.
The most striking aspect of Portman’s portrayal is her ability to present several sides of the one persona as if she and Jackie shared multiple personalities. Once you recover from the distraction that Portman barely resembles Jaqueline Kennedy, she takes you on an emotional roller-coaster, from terror, anger, hate, confusion, mental vacillation and disorientation to calm resolve about her role in history. Throughout it all she remains committed to turning a tragedy into national mythology based on political heroism, the Kennedy legend, and the Camelot fairy tale. While there is a commendable support cast, this is a one-woman performance and Portman’s portrayal is a tour de force.
Some will find this film an unflattering interpretation of Jaqueline Kennedy while others will find that it helps them to sympathetically understand the person behind the mask. The film steers a fine line in avoiding judgement and it is Portman’s dramatic ability to step into Jackie’s soul and to capture her mental trauma that ultimately shines. No bio-pic is perfect and you need to overlook scenes where the film struggles with period authenticity. Set this aside and you will be rewarded with a memorable performance about an unforgettable event.
Richard Alaba, PhD
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Have you seen ‘JACKIE’? Well, what did you think?
25 thoughts on “Guest Review: JACKIE (2016)”
I was very impressed with Jackie when we saw it at TIFF. It was much more than I expected, and I think the reason was its view of JFK’s assassination, which we’ve seen so many times before, from a whole new perspective. Lorrain made a great decision to barely show JFK, even during the tragic event. That decision hammers home that this is Jackie’s story, and Natalie Portman takes it from there with a great performance!
It was indeed a good director’s call to keep the bloodshed out of frame for so long. It make Jackie the subject and all else was the background. A different directors call could have ruined this important focus. And of course Portman is superb.
I really want to see this not just because of Lorrain, whose film No is a film I really like, but also because of PO’TMAN MOTHAFUCKA! Also because of John Hurt in one of his final performances as he just passed away today.
John Hurt is one of the performance pillars of the film. Its a shame Portman is so towering it leaves Hurt in the background. Hope you see it soon.
Oddly enough, your review reminded me a lot of Colin Firth in ‘The King’s Speech’. He didn’t look anything like King George VI but once you ignored that fact, it came off as a perfect movie with a fantastic representation of that person’s inner struggles while the history was being made and his country demanded his support.
As for Jackie, I haven’t seen it yet but the moment I heard about this movie being made starring her, I knew she would nail a character as complex as Jacqueline Kennedy cause Natalie has a knack of showcasing vulnerability with the utmost beauty.
It was a great review and I hope it releases in India soon so that I can watch it. Can’t wait!
Hi Shivani! Very true about King’s Speech, I was really impressed w/ Firth there though for me, Geoffrey Rush made the film for me. I will rent this one for sure, sounds like Natalie did a good job as Jackie O.
It was interesting to hear my wife’s reaction to the way Portman looked unconvincing as Jackie. It is jarring at first, but Portman is such a consumate performer that you get swept away with her acting power. Hope you enjoy it.
I really want to see this movie, especially for Natalie Portman.
Hey Vin, yeah it sounds like an intriguing role for Portman, though she didn’t really resemble Jackie O much.
It must be difficult playing a real life figure.
Indeed, esp someone so iconic.
They don’t come any more iconic than Jackie Kennedy.
Difficult, no doubt. But Portman pulls it off beautifully.
I’m delighted to hear that. Though I do love Natalie Portman and find that she always delivers exceptional work.
I definitely feel like Portman’s performance is far greater than the other actresses nominated for Oscar. After SAG I’m starting to think she’ll unfairly lose to Stone, but maybe the Academy will surprise us?
I hadn’t paid attention to SAG awards but yeah, it seems that Stone will likely win that Oscar now. Heh, well so long as Gosling doesn’t win I guess, I can’t believe he’s even nominated!!
I know…it’s honestly his weakest role to date…
Now now Ruth; Hollywood must have its heroes and until something else comes along its La La Land to the finishing line I’m afraid. Self-indulgent? You bet.
Yep, it seems I always disagree w/ Hollywood’s choice of cinematic heroes [shrug]. I don’t see the fuss about Gosling. You’re so right about the industry being self-indulgent, but then again what else is new? 😉
In terms of raw acting power, nuance, authenticity, and emotional depth, Portman towers far above Stone’s performance. But the Oscars are never based on objective criteria, rather on the impact of the film on established mythologies. Hollywood gets ridiculed around the globe for its sausage-machine production of genre formula films; in fact, genre is the opposite of arthouse. So I’m guessing Hollywood wants a big hug and will give itself one with La La Land.
This will be showing up soon in the U.K. and I can’t wait!
Great review! This is one of my favorites from last year. Natalie Portman did such a beautiful job with her portrayal.
Great review! I wish they had used some more authentic footage, the only thing I missed. Other than that I found the film beautiful!
Very much impressed by Portman here. When John Hurt came on screen there was a lovely ripple of whispers in the audience, very poignant
Interesting….now i will watch it & get back 2 u…..