Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
Review by Gilbert Seah
Chilean director Pablo Larrain has made a name for himself with critical hit films like NO and TONY MANERO. But he is an odd choice for the English speaking film biography of the true American icon JACKIE, based on the life of Jackie Kennedy just after her husband, John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
The story follows the events immediately following the assassination. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is being interviewed by a reporter, Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life Magazine. The film plunges the audience into the devastation using a series of finely crafted flashbacks that cover the fateful day in Dallas, Jackie’s return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and her time spent accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery.
The film is a slow count of what happens. It is the coping of a violent death of a loved one. The film is very American despite being directed by a non-American. The sequences complete a moving portrait of a grieving woman — a widow and mother struggling with overwhelming tragedy and attention. Yet the core of the film is formed by quiet, profoundly intimate moments: Jackie’s conversations with her children, her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard, also at the Festival in The Magnificent Seven), one of her aides (Greta Gerwig), journalist White (Billy Crudup), and a Catholic priest (John Hurt). Larrain loves the close-ups of Jackie. The scenes between Jackie and the priest are done in a flashback within a flashback.
Portman does a fine job as Jackie Kennedy. She often looks aloof though she says that she is not and concerned about the children and the funeral procession. I don’t recall how the real Jackie spoke, but Portman always speaks with her mouth wide open, which I gather is the way the real Kennedy spoke.
For a non-American, the tasks offered to the former First Lady of restoring the artefacts of the White House may seem trivial. Jackie often moves around the different rooms drowning vodka or popping one of her colourful pills, always with a cigarette in one hand. She might not seem convincing when she says she cares so much for the children, but that is the way she was in real life during those times. Non-Americans might either find everything totally boring for incidents portrayed that do not concern them or be totally in awe of anyone being so involved in Americana.
One of the tasks Jackie was in charge of was looking after the White House. In the film’s best segment, an inspired one no doubt, Jackie is seen moving about the house, cigarette in one hand, popping pols, pouring drinks or arranging letters to the tune and lyrics of the song CAMELOT. Camelot, the perfect place to be is Jackie’s White House.
JACKIE emerges as a rare film about America as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. It is a queer piece which alternates between looking really artificial and surreal, but that might be Larrain’s intention.
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