Directed by Pablo Larraín • Written by Noah Oppenheim
With Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup and John Hurt
Told largely from the perspective of the person closest to one of the most shocking events in post-war American history, Chilean director Pablo Larraín directs Natalie Portman in the title role of Jackie Kennedy, covering occurrences directly before, during and after JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Texas.
In taking the challenge of depicting a world-famous public figure, Portman demonstrates what a gusty actress she is. Undeterred by the inevitable scrutiny, she captures a combination of vulnerability and strength in the way she movingly expresses the mood and essence of a woman whose entire world is violently uprooted. While Portman’s face is more sculpted than that of the real Jackie, the style, elegance, bravery and soul of a woman surrounded by extremities are laid bare for us to see.
The reactions of those immediately surrounding her are often surprising – the political scurrying to realign office teeters precariously on the brink of disrespect. With Jackie Kennedy present, shocked to her core and still covered in the blood of her assassinated husband, hands shake and half-smiles of congratulation are exchanged, as aboard Air Force One, Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in as the new President of the United States. It makes for a surreal scene, demonstrating the unparalleled nature of high political life – for a brief moment, an unfeeling peek behind the curtain at a position where human sentiment is a secondary priority to the imperatives of the political system.
The non-linear approach to the storytelling takes its foundations from the first interview Jackie did with a ‘Life’ magazine journalist (Billy Crudup), mere days after the assassination. The tragedy is juxtaposed with a TV broadcast of Jackie’s famous White House tour – the privilidge of her glamorous surroundings, so empty in the face of personal loss, highlighting the meaninglessness of possesions.
In Mica Levi’s hypnotic musical accompaniment, we feel the sound of a mournful awakening – something almost alien as the turmoil of Jackie is emphasised by a grey cloud of sadness etched on the face of each person she encounters.
Supported by accurate production and art design, Pablo Larraín’s film captures the essential flavour of the time, with Portman’s striking performance given further credence by Peter Sarsgaard’s fine portral of Bobby Kennedy and a warm-hearted Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, a senior figure in the Kennedy administration.
A study on raw grief and a reflection on one’s purpose in the world in the aftermath of tragedy, the film seeks to show hope in shared scenes between Portman and John Hurt, whose own recent passing imbues a feeling of poignancy which deepens the meaning and resonance of their screen time – glimmers of light through a thick encompassing fog of despair.