Jackie is an atypical biopic seen through the eyes of Jacqeline Kennedy (Natalie Portman). Then main framing of the story follows the events which occurred prior and subsequent to her husband’s assassination in 1963. Directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín and produced by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) who was previously set to direct the biopic, Jackie follows fewer biopic conventions and instead examines towards psychological tendencies.
Initially pitched as a HBO mini-series, Jackie truly takes advantage of its filmic medium. Director of Photography Stéphane Fontaine’s (Rust and Bone) cinematography is sensational, only enhanced by the decision to shoot on 16mm film, expertly blending in with authentic archival footage from the period. Coupled with spectacular production design by Jean Rabasse and to-die-for costumes by Madeline Fontaine, the visuals in Jackie work perfectly, engaging us unquestioningly in the historical period and Jackie’s world. It is the other cinematic elements which set Jackie apart. The score is composed by Mica Levi (Under the Skin) and is nothing short of unsettling, tainting the precise visuals entirely. Levi’s accompaniment transforms Jackie from run-of-the-mill dramatic biopic to psychological thriller.
Jackie is masterfully portrayed by Natalie Portman whose spot-on accent, although strikingly accurate, is somewhat alienating at times. Perhaps due to the fact that Portman was one of the few actors to tackle a strong accent with such ferocity, Portman’s dedication and study of Jackie’s ‘posh-NY-British’ dialect seems a tad out of place among the subtler Transatlantic accents. However, the protrusion of Portman’s accent could be more of a reflection on her supporting cast’s lack of commitment by association. Moving past her accent, Portman is astounding as Jackie. I truly believe that nobody could have done a better job than her, and that this is her best performance to date.
Jackie’s most intriguing and engaging feature is the story of the woman herself. It was widely known that Jackie Kennedy had two sides – the put-together debutante persona which she shared with the public and media, and the feisty, intelligent identity that she kept private. These two personas are played upon by Larraín throughout the film, as Jackie reverts to her public persona in order to maintain control of her private situation prior to her husband’s assassination. She never crumples, continuing her duties as First Lady even after Lyndon Johnson is sworn in. This polarisation is expressed visually through stability and symmetry when Jackie is feeling in control and slow, hand-held camera when she lets go. Jackie talks about truth, in what people believe to be true and what she knows to be real. Her own eventual blurring of her personas ultimately makes it difficult for her to tell the truth, especially when she continuously switches her public persona on and off. She loses track – What is real? What is performance?
Jackie competed for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was also selected at Toronto. Natalie Portman is nominated for Best Actress at the Golden Globes but unfortunately did not receive any further nominations. Come Oscar nominations, I think that Portman will certainly be nominated again, but no other major nominations akin to Best Picture or Director. However, I do believe that nominations for costume and production design will certainly be in order.
Ultimately, Jackie succeeds as an absorbing character study of Jackie Kennedy. We come to understand her private self and her motives to build and maintain the Kennedy legacy as the ‘Camelot’ era. The film is visceral and disturbing and will perhaps estrange less informed viewers expecting a traditional biopic. Nevertheless, I would take this kind of experimentation through film-making over a lack-lustre biopic any day (looking at you, Hacksaw Ridge).
Jackie is in cinemas from January 7th, 2017.