It’s with some surprise that this is the first time on screen that we have seen any kind of portrayal of the life of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the wife of legendary President John F. Kennedy. Her life was as fascinating as any of the first ladies seen in US history (perhaps one the most popular) but until now Hollywood hasn’t “come calling”. Now, under the direction of acclaimed director Pablo Larrain and anchored by a stunning Natalie Portman, Jackie is that film but rather than a straightforward biopic, Jackie seeks to go deeper, starting with JFK’s assassination in 1963.
Choosing this as his first English-language film, Larrain couldn’t have picked a more challenging project both in terms of scope and story. A public figure embraced with so much love by America and indeed the world, Jackie Kennedy was an icon on so many levels and it’s surprising that the director would pick this particular one to undertake. Indeed such is the affection for the former First Lady that a film would come under added scrutiny from a public that wouldn’t take to kindly to one of their shining beacons across the last half-century being mistreated on screen.
But Larrain thrives in his surroundings and by taking the essence of Jackie and moulding it into something both profound and informative is a sight to behold. With the compelling and original screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, the Chilean director brings us the “anti-biopic” – a film that while still concerned about the life and experience that has come before (and after), it’s a more intimate and incisive portrayal of the the person underneath, what made them tick rather than just another cradle to grave story.
Stylistically, the film is remarkable – a vivid plethora of drained, hazy colours encapsulates the actors as they move through the dreamlike surroundings. Shot in part through the lens of 16mm by cinematographer Stephane Fontaine, these classic textures and compositions add another layer of uniqueness to the film – it feels more powerful and more potent shot in such a “congested” way. Add to that the wonderful recreations of some of the events that take place that you are truly transported back in time – certainly the moments that recreate the TV special “A Tour of the White House” are simply astounding, with Portman seamlessly added into the show with some wonderful trickery that never feels cheap.
The ace in hole is Portman, who delivers arguably her greatest performance of her career and one that she will do well to top in her future years (no pressure Natalie). While she has been away for a little while from the screen, Portman has proven time and time again that given the right role and script, she can be a world beater and so it proves here. Her meticulous pre-planning for the role, which involved her watching and listening to Kennedy over and over while she went about her daily routine, pays off handsomely here as she embodies Jackie both in her humanity and her undeniable pain, and is simply spectacular throughout.
In a super-congested award season that has seen many of those in the running for prizes suffer at the box office just under the weight of so much so quickly, Jackie is one of the shining lights that’s bursting through. Intelligently and astutely directed by Pablo Larrain, the token biopic is given a new lease of life with a moving, raw and achingly beautiful story of loss and survival, anchored by a quite remarkable turn by Natalie Portman who may well be walking away with many more accolades before the season’s curtain falls. Remarkable stuff.