2016 – USA / France / Chile
Director: Pablo Larraín
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
Words: Christian Abbott
This is an imperfect but deeply intimate picture, emotional from start to finish, elevated by a career best performance from Natalie Portman in the title role of Jackie Kennedy. This is one of the great untold tales from Hollywood; the story of Jackie Kennedy’s life has always been glimpsed upon at the side-lines, fleeting, and focused rather on her glamorous image than that of her personal life. This tale is one told immediately after the assassination of JFK, in the three subsequent days following, watching as Jackie Kennedy has to deal with the loss of her husband, console her children, deal with the press and face the prospects of her own future and the legacy of her husband.
Director Pablo Larrain keeps the proceedings tight, there is little deviation from the core narrative and the little we do get comes in the form of a conversation between Jackie Kennedy and her priest played by John Hurt. With the benefit of foresight these scenes have added emotion in the knowledge of the passing of the great John Hurt. They are moments concerned with faith and our place in life, often being the more intriguing parts of the film, offering insight into the mind of a hopelessly lost woman in an elegant way. This is an elegantly told story from start to finish, it can be shocking and heart-breaking but it is consistently riveting and engaging.
In other moments such as this we see a re-enactment of Jackie Kennedy’s ‘The Tour of the White House’ which uses vintage cameras to achieve the effect of feeling period accurate, something which is incredibly impressive and hard to accomplish. The film is filled with interconnected sequences such as these, which leads to its biggest flaw – the editing. At 99 minutes long it is surprising to say it feels too short, adding an extra 15 minutes would allow scenes to breath. Often sequences are cut in such a way that it becomes confusing to follow; we jump around back and forth at such a pace that moments don’t feel appreciated and character placement is questionable.
However, the shots we do have are all beautiful, shot on film by Stephane Fontaine (Rust and Bone, Captain Fantastic), every shot has style, coupled with the set and costume design, it deserves all respective Oscars.
A personal highlight was the score by Mica Levi whose only previous work has been Under the Skin, and the unusual strange feeling it brings is perfectly suited. Yet, above all else, it is Natalie Portman’s performance that deserves the awards. The level of emotion she commands throughout the film is astonishing, rivalling her work in Black Swan.
The film as a whole is a great achievement and will garner a level of prestige is deserves.