(Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Jackie really wasn’t on my radar until everybody began raving about it at the fall festivals. Because of the acclaim, Fox Searchlight picked up the distribution rights and the film premiered before the end of the year, giving the film an awards qualifying run. And watching Jackie, you understand this sentiment by the distributor. This isn’t an ordinary biopic spanning Jackie Kennedy’s entire life. It’s a quiet and beautifully made character study into the psyche of the former First Lady just days after her husband’s assassination.
Natalie Portman plays the titular character of Jackie, who tells her story to a reporter (Billy Crudup) just a week after the assassination of her husband in Dallas. From this perspective, we see Jackie giving her landmark “Tour of the White House” documentary, then cutting to the events preceding and after Dallas in 1963. Her shock and grieve is on full display as people like Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) attempt to comfort the grieving wife and mother through an unspeakable tragedy.
The film was directed by Pablo Larrain, a Chilean filmmaker best known for his Oscar-nominated film No, along with a collection of other Chilean films. Jackie’s screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim, who’s best known for writing two separate YA films (Allegiant, The Maze Runner) and as a longtime senior producer for the Today Show. The resume of Mr. Oppenheim doesn’t exactly scream “biopic”, but his screenplay was incredible poignant, as was the direction by Larrain. The filmmaker essentially shoots Jackie as a highbrow arthouse film, with the film cutting back and forth in time and having some really unique choices as a filmmaker with his cinematography. This decision could’ve easily gone south, but Larrain escapes pretentiousness and ends up delivering one of the more unique political biopics released in recent memory.
Natalie Portman doesn’t just play Jackie Kennedy. She virtually transforms into the former First Lady for the 90+ minute runtime. It might very well be the finest performance Portman has given in her career yet. Portman captures the quiet-mannered nature of Kennedy while also capturing the unimaginable grieving process of the character. Jackie Kennedy is in every scene of this film, which benefits the character study aspect of this film. For a woman who had just lost her husband, Portman’s Kennedy composes herself with such poise when she’s around others in the days after Dallas, and she also does so when she’s with a young JFK J.R. and Caroline Kennedy. It’s a very powerful performance of a very powerful and influential woman.
The supporting cast is good, but doesn’t try to get in the way of Portman’s performance. Sarsgaard doesn’t really bother doing the Massachusetts accent when portraying JFK’s brother, but his performance is fine. Sarsgaard feels perfect playing the jittery and often annoying Bobby Kennedy. Speaking of that similar sentiment, LBJ and Lady Bird are characters in this film. John Carrol Lynch plays LBJ while Beth Grant plays Lady Bird. The two are good in their performance, but they’re essentially background characters for this story, which is fine. The best supporting performance in the film was Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, the former White House Social Secretary who helps Jackie and her children in the aftermath of Dallas. Gerwig has always been a favorite performer of mine, so I enjoyed seeing her have a role in the flick.
But the best supporting performance in the film was John Hurt as a priest who consoles Jackie right before her husband’s funeral. Some of the more philosophical and beautiful moments from the film are found in the scenes between the two actors. I didn’t know John Hurt was in the film, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him.
Jackie is a really spectacular biopic of one of the greatest First Lady’s in U.S. history. Don’t be surprised if you hear Portman’s name called several times throughout the awards season, especially at the Academy Awards in a few months. It’s one of the very best performances of 2016, and hopefully the film itself will get a little bit of love during the always crowded race. This is one of the last films I’ll be seeing before the end of the year, and I’m happy that I did so.