Jackie Kennedy is possibly the most famous first lady to have entered the public consciousness in recent history. Even her name conjures up the image of her pink suit and matching pill box hat. The media’s representation of her is fixated on the upper crust side of her; the fashionable woman with the affected accent. Jackie, however, offers a rare glimpse at the woman underneath the myth.
Jackie begins after the events that make up the meat of the story. It’s after the assassination, after the burial, that Jackie gets a visit from a reporter (played by Billy Crudup) who wants to interview her about John F. Kennedy’s murder. This interview provides Jackie its framework as it crosses back and forth through time.Throughout the interview, Jackie is often seen telling the interviewer dark truths but quickly saying, her bitterness rising after the reveal, “You can’t write that.” Jackie knows that the only hope that her husband has left now is what history will write so she uses words and uses imagery to spin a fairy tale that people will believe.
Though much has been said about Natalie Portman’s performance, deservedly so, I think Pablo Larrain’s direction is extraordinary here. I haven’t seen his prior work, but he is one to keep an eye on. He uses 16mm film to give Jackie a grainy, almost documentary-like look that’s coupled with breathtaking hand-held tracking shots for lengthy periods of the film that makes it feel as though the audience is a part of the surrounding chaos.
Jackie, however, wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t for Natalie Portman’s performance. She is in virtually every frame of the movie, bristling with anger, a few moments of crying all while walking in a haze of grief. To call it, or the film, ‘Oscar-bait’, is reductive and ridiculous; her performance is undeniably great. Yes, her mannerisms, movements and voice are all near-exact but it isn’t a performance built on a bag of hollow tricks; it’s the very definition of embodiment.
Jackie maybe about a public figure in our recent history but if you strip away the Kennedy myth and name, the movie’s beating heart, its very core, is the story of how grief feels and how it’s handled. It’s tumult seeming to never end, like a hazy bad dream. Jackie captures every moment of that bad dream.