On November 22 1963, one of the “greatest presidents” of our time, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (or JFK), was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. He had only served 2.5yrs as the 35th President of the United States of America. After serving such a brief term he is still regarded and well known the world over for two reasons. Firstly the visuals of his assassination were all captured on film and secondly because of the days that followed his assassination. Days orchestrated and managed by his true “right hand,” his wife, Jackie. JACKIE is a new and incredibly original look at the wife of JFK but only in a window of time that is less than a week.
JACKIE releases on January 12th from the wonderful peeps at Entertainment One Australia. It runs for 100mins and is not yet rated in Australia. Oddly it is rated R in the US and this generally indicates a MA15+ here – no idea why – definitely an M kind of movie.
Do not think this is a study of the assassination of JFK. JACKIE is a study of one of the most charismatic women of history. It is a look into to the events as they effected her and a deep dive into her soul and psyche. In one moment she lost her love, her President, her husband, her home, her future and her Camelot. At a time when women were only wives, and support for husbands, we only saw Jackie through the press as a designer of her layout of the White House. And also as a First Lady. She was known as a fashion icon and stunning example of the American dream. She was one of the first people to know the importance of image and legacy of the time.
Jacqueline Kennedy was one of the first Presidential wives televised and the JFK Presidency could be seen somewhat as the first social media presidency utilised through television.
While dealing with the grief of her loss, the grief of her children, the grief of a nation, Jackie must pack up and leave the White House, watch a new President be sworn in within moments of her husband’s assassination and consider how to eulogise and give her husband the legacy she believed he deserved. This is the first time I, and most likely you, will see her as more than an icon. She can be seen here as a true and complete person, warts and all. She may be an icon known for grace and beauty but she is also delicate, sensitive, powerful and someone not to be messed with. At the time of JFKs assassination she was probably the most powerful woman in America.
JACKIE was a blacklist script from 2010. A screenplay that was considered superb but could find no one attached to it. A few years back Darren Aronofsky was to direct and the movie would star Rachel Weisz. The project stalled, lost its lead and then Aronofsky saw director, Pablo Larraín’s, impressive THE CLUB. It was then he decided to produce and hand Larraín the screenplay. Larraín’s distinctively energetic filmmaking style and deft ability to swirl character, emotion and political insight into an affecting narrative seemed a great match for screenwriter Noah Oppenheim’s probing of Jacqueline Kennedy.
Larraín’s vision is told through an interview (of sorts) with a man in the movie known only as “The Journalist.” In reality this was Theodore White and there is some oddity with giving him no name in the movie. Jackie was familiar with White in the real world but in the movie it is evident they have never met. It is almost as if he is not even an important journalist but someone who was sent by the paper even after it only being one week since one of the most important people in history was assassinated. This appears part of the vehicle to make this movie ONLY about Jackie and Portman, mostly everyone else is secondary, but it loses historical accuracy in this. The interview brings flashes and moments in the past week into focus and holds a form of semblance in narrative.
Larraín’s direction is as flawless as Oppenheim’s screenplay. It masterfully weaves a tale so complex and powerful and not imagined until now. A theme heavy movie delving into the power of loss, love, self-preservation, public consciousness and history.
The technical elements of the movie are on par with the direction and screenplay also. Firstly, master cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, RUST AND BONE, ELLE) nails the visuals of JACKIE. The camera is so incredibly tight on Portman in so many scenes to bring the audience in to where she is. Portman must have felt claustrophobic at times but she is also a master. Fontaine also shot the entire movie in 16mm giving the feel of the time. It blends quite seamlessly with the very limited original footage used. It is also only presented in 1.66:1 on the screen as opposed to 1.85:1 so do not be alarmed by black bars on the side of the screen, it further adds to the historic feel of the movie.
Further applause to Art Director, Set Decorator and Costume Designer. Art director Halina Gebarowicz is a faux White House expert being art director for both HOUSE OF CARDS and VEEP. Gebarowicz’s partnership with Set Decorator Véronique Melery is a master stroke presenting the elegant and somewhat epic look of this marvellous historic building at the time. Costume designer Madeline Fontaine has ensured a future Oscar for her stunning work on Portman/ Jackie’s costumes. The recreative marvel of those Chanel dresses is astounding. The pink Chanel alone is basically a character itself in history and the movie.
The word Natalie needs to be as big as the word Jackie on the poster. This is a Natalie Portman movie, and while her performances have always been amazing, none have been this good. Few actors in their entire career will have an opportunity to dive into such a great role. Helen Mirren as THE QUEEN, Meryl Streep as THE IRON LADY and Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf have been there. Portman is as good, if not better, than all of them in her performance of the former First Lady. There is no doubt that Portman will add a second Oscar to her cabinet with this performance. I would love to see Emma Stone win an Oscar for LA LA LAND but while her performance is stunning it is no masterclass like Portman gives.
The supporting cast are impressive in secondary roles. Peter Sarsgaard is flawless in whatever he does. His Bobby Kennedy is powerful and at the whim of Jackie in this trying time while also morning the loss of this brother and their presidency. I always love watching Billy Crudup onscreen. But he is more a facilitator in his character, a steering narrator if you will. I didn’t even recognise Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman until the credits. The shoulder and confidante personal assistant of the First Lady is a marvellous small role. Other small marvels and claps to John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Beth Grant and John Carroll Lynch, all superb.
JACKIE will not be for everyone, it is an in-depth masterclass of acting. A historic and slight fictionalised study of the former First Lady in this unimaginable week. It will be a critics darling movie but will not be a financial blockbuster for the masses. JACKIE could possibly clean sweep the Oscars. It will no doubt get nominations for BEST FILM, DIRECTOR, COSTUME, SCREENPLAY. And of course for BEST FEMALE LEAD, and possibly BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR for Sarsgaard. I wish it well, it deserves everything coming its way.
Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan.
** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.