Originally published on The National Student on 19/01/17.
Pablo Larraín’s seriously visceral Jackie Kennedy biopic is an absolute technical marvel, and really not what you’d expect.
Oscar season prompts biopic after biopic, year after year, and usually with little ingenuity to the grand formula of things. From Clint Eastwood’s plodding mess J. Edgar to last year’s Edward Snowden retread from Hollywood rebel child Oliver Stone; even Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s joint behemoth Steve Jobs had its reservations.
But with his first American picture, Jackie, Chilean award-winner Pablo Larraín thunders towards something sensationally separate; a genuinely entrancing and quietly emotional snapshot of one of America’s most beloved female icons.
Much like Sorkin opted for with his Jobs drama, Jackie tackles just a very closed off section in the widow Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) life; the days and weeks leading directly on from her husband’s assassination in 1963. Springing back and forth along the hazy, soft-tinged timeline, it’s a film that captures everything from the trials of being First Lady, to the most extreme sensations of loss, caressing along almost every branch on the way down.
It’s not a literal biopic by any stretch. From the lusciously 60s feel of Stéphane Fontaine’s positively gorgeous 16mm photography to Mica Levi’s ghostly scoring, Jackie sets a mood for itself from the very first frame, tumbling into a bigger sense of archival psychopathy than any grand Hollywood re-telling.
Larraín’s film spends far less time bigging up its lead’s celebrity status, concerned instead with what lies beneath the Chanel suits and million-dollar smiles: the psyche of its star. Everything from the assassination itself, to the ensuing funeral (one of the most staggering in US history) are fragmented by a lens that only has eyes for Jackie.
No matter what is occurring the other side of the frame, whether it be cheering crowds, a historically significant meeting, or even the President of the free world’s head being caved open by an assassin’s bullet, all we see is her. It sounds such a narrow minded, or even blinding approach on paper, but the result is something truly exceptional.
Our true image of Portman’s Jackie isn’t derived from any long-winded monologues or even necessarily her relationships with others, it’s all in her reactions; how she deals with some of both the most extreme and the most domestic tragedies a woman in her time could face.
Portman’s portrayal is obviously a huge part of this also; a transformative turn that sees the Hollywood starlet very much rage against the fragility of her most famous characters. The multi-faceted nature of her Oscar-winning spin as Black Swan’s Nina remains, but with a tremendously subtle twist. A grieving widow dressed to the nines in what quickly became iconic fashion could very easily be driven to the limits of hokeyness; it’s simple enough to look the part, but what Portman brings is a sense of character like no other.
Portman’s Kennedy is the epitome of class, an exquisitely dressed Venus de Milo of 60s womanhood, and a seriously learned figure of government, all built upon an innate fieriness that bursts forth in the most personal of company.
She’s a woman on a knife’s edge, stripped of her identity and pushed away from all she has ever known not even overnight but in the space of hours. And the way Portman embodies this not as a triumphant underdog, but as an emotionally rounded, tremendously genuine human being is what earns her the praise of this being the finest performance of the year, no question.
The pairing of Portman and Larraín is one for the ages, an ethereal twosome that, off the back of the further five-star chain of technical genius behind the cameras, cements Jackie as not just a lasting biopic but an important one; a film that can conjure its wisdom in any age to come, but sits as a tremendously stunning insight ahead of the ominously awaited President Trump.
Jackie is in UK cinemas from Friday.