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Jackie Review: Natalie Portman Shines

By  · Published on September 19th, 2016

Natalie Portman Shines in Jackie

Natalie Portman triumphs in her Oscar-worthy portrayal of a mourning Jacqueline Kennedy.

Having premiered three films in a span of eighteen months, it is no stretch to declare Pablo Larrain a busy filmmaker. Each of his politically charged films toys with cinematic conventions, making for always stimulating experiences. Before his latest, Larrain had only made films in his native Chile. These films (including Oscar nominee No, The Club, and recently Neruda) were unabashedly critical of the current and historical political landscape of Chile. His latest film is his first made in English in the United States, yet while attempting to branch out to a more mainstream art-house market, Larrain remains political as ever. Natalie Portman makes a triumphant return as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie, Larrain’s stirring and effective quasi-biopic.

Opening in beautifully grainy black and white, Jackie begins just a week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jackie Kennedy has invited a reporter (Billy Crudup) to her countryside home to give a definitive account of her response to her husband’s assassination. Through this interview, Larrain explores significant moments in Jackie’s time as the first lady. Perhaps the most well known is Jackie’s televised tour of the White House, which shows the more guarded and composed Mrs. Kennedy. Of course the most delectable comes in Larrain’s intrusion of Jackie private life immediately following the shooting. Cutting erratically between these plot lines, as well as Jackie’s extended conversation with a priest (John Hurt), Larrain creates an uncomfortably intimate gaze into the former first lady’s psyche.

Natalie Portman’s performance as the title character is remarkable. Portman’s approach is not only incredible, but it is truly unprecedented. Words simply cannot do justice to this portrayal. To say that Portman “becomes” Jackie Kennedy would be too easy, and rather incorrect. Hers is not the type of performance that would make the viewer believe they are watching the actual subject. Instead, what appears in this film is Portman playing Jackie Kennedy. It is this performance that, in addition to Larrain’s eclectic style, makes the film so special. Like the woman so desperate to remain composed, the film shows Portman so dedicatedly exhuming a heightened representation of Kennedy’s likeness. As Kennedy, Portman is shockingly theatrical. The lull of Jackie’s strangely childlike yet deep voice is commanded in a manner that feels just slightly over-exaggerated. This amplified performance works perfectly alongside screenwriter Noah Oppenheim’s script. His is a screenplay that is not based on any strict biographical material. While the recreation of the televised White House walkthrough may be modeled on fact, Oppenheim’s screenplay never claims to represent a truthful portrait its subject. Thus, the film imagines Jackie as a strong-willed woman, struggling to retain her composure amidst a crisis. Portman is at her best when depicting Kennedy on the verge of a breakdown. It is when the building pressure finally collapses, and Jackie Kennedy dances around her bedroom after ingesting glasses of booze and some pills that the film reminds of us Portman’s pure talent.

Larrain’s kaleidoscopic view of a period in Jacqueline Kennedy’s life will surely shake up any crowd expecting a standard dramatization of Kennedy’s life. Instead, through his frantic cutting and evolving pacing, the filmmaker successfully translates Kennedy’s delicate nature and building social pressure into the finished product. With no truth claims laid bare, Larrain is given the platform to experiment the way he knows best. In its retooling and repurposing one of popular culture’s most mysterious figures, Jackie succeeds as a shocking and seductive piece of art.

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Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films.