Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Date: January 20th
Jackie arrives in cinemas the same day as the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America. It’s fitting, and oddly prescient, as it provides one of the best looks at the image, meaning and heritage of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, experienced entirely through the 35th First Lady. It’s a raw and stark look at loss, the coping mechanisms employed in the most extraordinary of positions but also a fascinating examination of the media optics that come with the post and what it stands for.
“People like to believe in fairytales,” Jackie notes, “Don’t let it be forgot that for one shining moment there was a Camelot.” JFK’s funeral becomes her means both to deal and her chance to ensure the last memory of her husband is not set in Deazy Plaza. Ahead of her time, she understands the immediacy of history and the importance of controlling the narrative. This manifests in her plans for a grand and regal state procession which leaves her at loggerheads with incumbent president Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) and his top aide Jack Valenti (Max Casella).
In the hands of Pablo Larraín (The Club, No), Jackie is a haunting and absolute exploration of grief and the preservation of legacy. Yet Larraín — aided by the soaring, other-worldly strings and stately snare drums of Mica Levi’s gorgeous score — crafts a lucid laudanum dream as Jackie floats on a wave of anguish and numbness.
In the moment of JFK’s assassination, Jackie immediately transforms out of necessity and also shock, not fully processing the terror of the situation while she frantically tries to piece back together the skull of her already dead husband. Portman is incredible, the camera clinging intrusively to her face for the 99 minute running time. When Larraín eventually pulls his camera back, giving her a moment to breath, she stumbles through the White House like a victim who made it to the end of a horror movie, her pink Chanel skirt awash in blood. It’s one moment of vulnerability among a front of steadfast resolve and spiked barbs expertly delivered in Mid-Atlantic affectation.
Portman’s performance is so commanding that the outlook becomes (for the better) insular, leaving its supporting cast to all provide strong but transient performances. Billy Crudup as Life magazine interviewer Theodore H. White has the most fun, engaging in a sparring contest with Jackie, seeing past her curt veneer but well aware of his inability to print any of what he discovers. Caspar Phillipson, a dead ringer for John F. Kennedy, is expertly cast but then wisely kept at the edge of the frame or out of focus, the focal point never swaying from Portman.
Along with this and No, a hopeful film about the plebiscite that ended Pinochet’s reign in Chile, Larraín has carved himself out a niche as of one cinema’s premier historians. The power structure in America is shifting from one seen as its first pop culture president to another whose brand and ascendancy owes to reality television, yet there’s an argument that Jackie Kennedy, a performer who invited cameras for a curated tour through The White House and fashion icon, was the beginning. She was ahead of her time in the understanding of public appearances while also believing “there won’t be another Camelot.” She might have been right on that too.