Natalie Portman is stunning as Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's assassination. Set in 1963 directly after the funeral, Jackie is a hypnotic portrayal of a woman in a maelstrom. As the country reeled, Jackie was a monument of dignity under duress. Chilean Director Pablo Larrain crafts a sublimely artistic and intimate portrayal of her struggle. She was a devastated wife and mother, but keenly understood the historical weight of the moment.
The film opens at the Kennedy compound in Massachusetts. A journalist (Billy Crudup) has come to interview Jackie, her first since the tragedy. Stoic and chain smoking cigarettes, she calmly informs him that she will be editing the interview. What follows is a surreal account of her life as First Lady. From her television debut leading a tour of the White House, to the horror of holding her husband's brain in, to the somber funeral preparations, she lays herself bare. The interview is a cathartic event for her. But it is not for public consumption. Her story for the public is that of Camelot, the beautiful dream that was shattered.
Pablo Larrain brings an artist's touch to Jackie. His style is mesmerizing, like a lucid dream. He keeps Portman front and center. Following her with long tracking shots as she navigates the uncharted waters. There's an absolutely brilliant scene where Jackie gets drunk as she tries on different dresses for the funeral. As she goes from room to room, the sadness of her situation sinks in. Another part of Larrain's excellent direction is the use of historical footage and Portman's placement. This isn't done like Forrest Gump, but with an inventive sensibility that preaches to the director's vision of the story.
The score by Micah Levi greatly contributes to the effectiveness of Natalie Portman's performance. It is purely orchestral with haunting string and woodwinds that shadow Jackie through her darkest hours. She famously refused to remove the bloodstained pink dress she wore in Dallas. She wanted the world to see what had been done. Levi's accompaniments to these scenes are masterful. His work is a fine testament to how music can help convey meaning and emotion in cinema.
There aren't enough superlatives for Natalie Portman. She's been a fantastic actress since childhood, so I suppose brilliance is the norm. But she certainly raises her own bar here. Jackie is a whirlwind of emotions inside, but works diligently to restrain herself to the outside world. This ability to hold it in, but not look like you're holding back is an acting tour de force. Portman won Best Actress for Black Swan. She is the actress to beat again at this year's Oscars.
From Fox Searchlight, Jackie is a fascinating look at a truly admirable woman. I'm not sure how historically accurate the personal scenes are, but they do her justice. Too often biopics are rote and dependent on circumstances as a driver. Larrain puts us squarely in the shoes of Jackie. Her journey is haunting and powerfully moving.