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JACKIE – Thank God I’m Not A Kennedy

jackie

Directed by Pablo Larrain
Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Skarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

In Dallas on November 22nd 1963, an assassin’s bullet ended the life of the 35th president of the United States of America. John F Kennedy presided over a turbulent period for America, struggling with Civil Rights at home, and mired in the Cold War internationally. By his side, his wife Jackie as first lady, did much to increase the President’s profile and open up The White House to the public, through the growing TV media. Again by his side on that fatal day, she must deal with the personal and political fallout from his death, and cement her husband’s place in history. For actress Natalie Portman, playing the grieving first lady may be the role of a lifetime, and has placed her in strongly in the running for an Oscar.

Jackie does not make itself an easy film to like. From that first discordant note of the soundtrack designed to set the audience on edge, it is a piece designed to challenge the audience and tear into your preconceptions. Concentrating on the days after the assassination of John F Kennedy, leading up to his state funeral, it seeks to show us a small slice of time, and by that grant us insight into the character. What we see is not just the tragic socialite we associate with the icon, but instead a political player cementing her husbands legacy. It is all about controlling the narrative, but at the same time dealing with deep personal tragedy. The result is fascinating, told in a broken chronological fashion, but all hung of one central performance -that of Portman.

Natalie Portman’s Jackie is riveting, capturing the essence of the First Lady. Strong as steel, but pushed by circumstance to almost breaking point, Portman allows us to see a range of the historical figure’s emotions. She is at her best, her strongest, when she is battling wits with a reporter from Life (Billy Crudup), the device upon which the films narrative is centred. Here we see her resolve, her candour and her political savvy. The flipside to this is the aftermath of Dallas, where she portrays a heart-wrenching vision of a woman in shock. This is certainly Portman’s film, with a titan performance that dwarfs all others.

Jackie is a meticulously constructed piece. Pablo Larrain frames everything with an eye for detail, each shot calculated for effect, and staged precisely. At times this precision, the disjointed narrative, and the overwhelming score, can distance the audience. The result can be somewhat clinical. Yet at other times we can be drawn into that maelstrom of emotion to viscerally experience the moment. It is disorientating, but it is certainly distinctive. Despite it’s occasional coldness Jackie is a curiously interesting work, vastly different than the run-of-the-mill bio-pic.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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