While the assassination of JFK remains a huge news event in the history of the 20th century, definitely one of those ‘Where were you when you heard’ about stories, the effect it had on the USA and the world at large isn’t really discussed about it. Instead, when JFK is raised, you know one of your friends who may have also had a little too much to drink will have a perfect theory as to what happened on that fateful day in 1963. So it’s nice to get away from crap about the grassy knowl and do a personal story about the assassination with this film, Jackie.
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson, Flame and Citron), his wife and now former First Lady Jackie (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta) must now try and to grieve for her killed husband as well as guide the country through one of the most tumultuous times in its history.
So the film’s narrative is one that is starting to become fairly standard for biopics, it’s all done through an interview. Taking place just a short time after the assassination of JFK, a journalist (Billy Crudup, Watchmen) comes to interview Jackie about what happened on that day and the aftermath. It may be a narrative device that is starting to come a bit too common, and often one that is a bit pointless, the film is smarter than most with it. The film shows us a more spiky version of Jackie who has plenty of attitude, constantly telling the journalist that he can’t publish some of the comments she makes, especially the ones which expose her more vulnerable side. It is a great example of the character work the film does, which really does examine Jackie from all sides and while we mostly see her in grief, we do feel like we know her by the end of the movie.
But ok, this film isn’t just about Jackie. It is also a showcase for Natalia Portman who puts in the performance of her life. She banished the idea she was just a pretty face actress a long time ago but if you dared to still think that, boy are you wrong. Portman has to show many different aspects of Jackie in this film and she pulls it off effortlessly. To make you realise how good she is in this, even though she is one of most well-known actresses in the world, you completely forget it is her. So many actors, even really good ones, can’t get over their power but Portman manages it by completely transforming her into the former First Lady.
And the way she depicts grief (Man I should have put this into my grief trilogy, though it would be a quadrilogy then) is quite honestly stunning. There’s the complete breakdown after the initial shooting, the stiff upper lip as she tries to present a strong image to the country and a simply striking depiction of survivor’s guilt later on in the film which is honestly tough to watch. This is simply a stunning performance and looking back at the Academy Awards, I really think that Portman should have been the one walking away with the golden statuette at the end of the night.
And something I really should mention is the costume design, something else it was nominated for at this year’s Oscars. They are excellent and had a great shout at winning it. Considering many people got obsessed with the look of Jackie, something the film does touch on towards the end, this is something the film has to get absolutely correct and they do. You and transported back into the 1960s and having costumes which seem plucked from the real life pictures on Portman does help become the character, though I don’t think she needed it. Her performance is that good I think you could have put her in activewear and she’d convince you she was Jackie.
And really, there aren’t many problems with the film. I know some have complained that the fraught relationship between Jackie and the next President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch, Shutter Island) is fabricated and I don’t feel like it adds that much to the film, I don’t think it is too insulting to anyone involved so I can’t class it as much of a problem. Perhaps the film could have been more interesting if they focused on the rumours of JFK’s infidelity but then again the film does touch on it and there’s some great lines from Jackie in that scene, so I can’t really argue for a scene.
I get that some people may be sick of the topic of JFK assassination due to the mad conspiracy theories that surround it but Jackie really needs to be seen. Even if you don’t care for the subject material at all, Portman’s performance is so incredible that it just needs to be seen. Even in scenes which should be pretty boring, she brings them alive with this amazing portrayal of a woman so many felt they knew during this crisis. And now, you’ll feel like you know her even more.