Movie Review - Jackie

Natalie Portman gives a dead-on impression. The voice and mannerisms of Jacqueline Kennedy are brought to life perfectly. As First Lady, Kennedy gave a tour, which was captured on black-and-white film. Director Pablo Larraín recreates this black-and-white footage flawlessly with Portman as the center-piece of that recreation and she nails it beat-for-beat. Larraín is not new to this kind of depiction of political history. He did the docudrama No (2013), which primed him appropriately for this.

The screenplay by Noah Oppenheim focuses on the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination when his widow Jackie is still blood-stained until the 35th President is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Like the Life of Pi, the film also is structured as a person telling a reporter about an incredible moment in his or her life. In this case, it's her life. The film flashes back-and-forth between talking to the reporter and the incredible moment. This structure is a bit more purposeful than in that Ang Lee film. That purpose is really about a person crafting a story about real-life making it more important to the masses.

It's as much about a woman grieving her husband and having to deal with certain awkward details, relating to people in uncomfortable and also tender ways. In that, this film is a perfect companion to Manchester By the Sea. Everything here is heightened because the woman grieving lives in the White House and there are certain complications that come into play. Seeing the key figures navigate those complications are interesting. Those key figures include Bobby Kennedy, the brother and Attorney General played by Peter Sarsgaard, Nancy Tuckerman, Kennedy's social secretary, played by Greta Gerwig, and Jack Valenti, Kennedy's political consultant, played by Max Casella.

There is an intrusive score that stands out in a way that is noticeable, especially to me and I don't normally notice musical score. It heightens the emotion given that there are a lot of scenes where Portman doesn't speak. Larraín's camera just follows her. He slowly zooms in on her face many times and he does a lot of handheld work with the camera right next to her head but in a Terrence Malick way that never feels as intrusive as it is immersive. We're floating through a haze with her.

There is an interesting idea at play. That idea has to do with legacy. It became obvious to Jackie and Bobby, as they're being ushered out the door that they have to work to ensure how the late President will be remembered or what people will think when they think Kennedy.

Jackie asks two random persons about three other assassinated presidents, Garfield, McKinley and Lincoln. People remember Lincoln and his accomplishments. They don't recall Garfield or McKinley's accomplishments, so Jackie doesn't want her husband to go the way of Garfield or McKinley. She wants her husband to go the way of Lincoln.

The problem is that the movie via Jackie never lays out those accomplishments. Presumably, Jackie comparing JFK's presidency to Camelot by simply saying it is enough. Arguably, it's not. Even Jackie points out that not everybody in that time of the 60's were fans of JFK. Fifty years later, it's obvious that Jackie won the legacy war, but it would have been more interesting to see that Camelot comparison challenged more. There are no opportunities, but someone who represented Kennedy's opposition would have been compelling like for example the character played by Billy Crudup.

Rated R for brief strong violence and some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

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