Every once in a while, a movie comes around that just floors us. Whether it be from emotion, shock, joy, or anxiety, a film can hit us right to the core and remain unforgettable. We’ve all had this experience in the cinema and at the 54th annual New York Film Festival, a film came around that not only floored me, but left me in shambles. That film is Jackie.
Including an otherworldly Natalie Portman in a performance where words escape me, Jackie is a disturbingly intimate biopic that puts humanity into the urban legend of a mysterious first lady, yet an icon to the public eye. It’s downright harrowing in its storytelling and such a mesmerizing entry in the biopic genre, a genre that, by fault, needs to be conventional and going through the motions. Director Pablo Larrain offers a psychological, in depth look into a woman going through insurmountable grief. It not only succeeds as a biopic, but also as a journey into a damaged soul.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better performance this year, male or female, than from Natalie Portman (although let’s see what happens in December when La La Land rolls around). Portman is up for the daunting task of nailing the singular and specific voice of Jackie Kennedy, conjuring up a voice eerily similar to that of Kennedy. She perfects that airy, elegant voice that brings the whole performance together. We also sense the quivering in her voice that makes you buy the emotional aspect of the performance, trying to stay composed and keep her grief in as hard as possible, but letting it out through the subtle cracks in the voice. Portman is in every damn frame of the film and you’re just fixated on her every second of it. It’s clear that she now joins the ranks of some of the greatest famous figure depictions in film history. Mark my words: Portman wins the oscar come February.
*Come for Portman, but be surprised by the razor sharp Billy Crudup as the reporter interviewing Kennedy. The back and forth of the two is gold*
Jackie also thrives with its technical aspects. Haunting strings play in the background to give this cerebral vibe to the film. The opening over a black screen hooks you in right off the bat. The cinematography of 16mm film not only looks gorgeous, but makes sense given the era. Jackie Kennedy is a product and representation of everything 60s, so the cinematography must reflect it. Going digital does not do justice to a monumental figure of the 60s. Seeing that film graininess in the cinematography makes it feel more real and immerse you in the era. Kennedy was always shot on film when she was alive and the crew knew that. The cinematography feels old school, yet perfect. We get stunning shots throughout the film, particularly one scene at a cemetery.
Overall, Jackie amazes me and stays in my mind. We get brutal scenes with Mike Tyson level punches of emotion. The heart aches watching this story of grief and the film is unprecedented in a way that only Pablo Larrain could do. We’re treated to a historical film that’s in a dream like state. It tries to be so much more than a biopic and that’s why Jackie works. It’s a film with only meat on the bone and no filler. Not a second is wasted on something not worth the film’s time. It’s vanity, yet sorrow. Glamour, yet pain. The spotlight is on Jackie and it’s pretty damn great, so much so, you won’t even realize that JFK is in the film for less than 30 seconds. It’s tasteful. It’s surreal. It’s Jackie.