Jackie is that rare thing in film: a brutal, unflinching, exploration of a life imploding. Dark and honest, it’s a refreshing antidote to the no holds barred spectacle that usually accompanies awards season.
Director Pablo Larrain deserves immense credit for this. This is a film that is unapologetic in its rejection of convention, by focusing the narrative on one character for the full 100 minutes. There is a well-established framework for historical film making. It usually includes bombast, melodrama, and unsubtle clues to tell you exactly when something IMPORTANT is happening. Larrain wholeheartedly rejects this framework, and the result is truly remarkable.
Of course, such singular focus requires an actor that can pull out of all the stops, a task Natalie Portman more than fulfils. Her performance is nuanced and delicate, movie-goers becoming putty in her hands. Take, for example, the moment early on in the film when she appears to break down crying under interview, recounting the horrific events of the shooting as they happened. In our small cinema, you could hear every little breath, the audience was frozen. Yet immediately she resumes her previous defiant pose, cigarette in hand, eyes piercing through the cynicism of her interviewer (played with blunt charm by Billy Crudup). She pulls out emotion at the drop of a hat, and so is expertly placed the chart the disintegration of Jackie Kennedy’s life.
The tone of the film is indeed funeral, from the very first shot to the last. Mica Levi’s score is key to this dance of death, the central motif chilling but strangely alluring. The film is beautifully shot, painting both the dizzy headiness of Dallas and the morbid noir of Arlington Cemetery in the mud. The avoidance of cliche will certainly endear the film to many.
The film is by no means perfect, apt for a story that celebrates brokenness and contradictions. In fact, Jackie barely dwells on political intrigue at all, bar the brief tense exchange between Robert Kennedy and JFK’s successor Lyndon Johnson. This does lead to a dumbing down of the political drama, a deep shame, yet is also slightly relieving. By pushing aside politics, Jackie cuts through to the truly important questions: how does one deal with losing not only a husband, a father to your children but the most powerful man in the world?
Ultimately Jackie is a deeply impressive film. In terms of craft and sheer emotional heft, it is unparalleled in the films of this year’s awards season (yes, I’m looking at you La La Land). Fans of the historical panorama will be disappointed, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s much in Jackie for those willing to set aside convention and take a long, lingering look at serious grief.
Words by Jacob Moreton