Natalie Portman once again enters the Oscar conversation with “Jackie,” Pablo Larraín’s English language debut detailing Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s assassination. The biopic is a daring and slicing look at a complex person when matched with Natalie Portman’s performance becomes an immersive experience that you will not forget.
Told in flashbacks during a magazine interview, “Jackie” explores the complex life the First Lady lead. It gave an inner look at the grief and tragedy she faced from her husband’s assassination and how she dealt with the constant media attention. As the film shows the events of the assassination and the subsequent funeral, it also gives Jackie a life. One that being the First Lady didn’t grant her. Instead of being the grieving widow, “Jackie” portrays her as a unique human who dealt with her problems in her own way and who wanted her husband to be more than just an assassinated president. Upset that his legacy may be in jeopardy, Jackie arranges an interview to try and honor her late husband but makes it clear that this will only be for her.
Going into “Jackie,” I had little knowledge of Jackie Kennedy. I knew her as the widow in the pink pill dress and nothing more. In a way, this helped me understand her a little more. While people who knew of her saw her as a fashion icon (which, let’s be real, she was ahead of her time) and a widow, I got to see a human who had to face so many difficult choices all at once. I understand that the film wasn’t a documentary, but the actions and conversations felt as if they could’ve been from a transcript. The film didn’t pad or soften the bleak sadness of Jackie’s situation and didn’t try to make her likable or unlikable. The unwavering portrayal of Jackie Kennedy made the experience a worthwhile story of a girl who didn’t want to be the center of attention.
Natalie Portman is of magnificent form throughout the film. She plays the former First Lady with a depth that very few could achieve. Portman weaves between grieving widow, upset mother, and a determined woman who’s going to chose her own future. While Jackie Kennedy’s husband did not get to decide his legacy as most presidents get to, Portman’s determined performance of a woman who will stop at nothing to make her husband be remembered as a great man is heartbreaking. Portmans performance also makes it very clear that Jackie Kennedy never wanted the life she fell into. After seeing the film, it’s easy to see her spending her days in a small quiet town with her family until she got old, instead, she became the center the attention that the whole of America had their eye on.
Larraín’s skills as a director come into play immediately as the film begins. The score blares to a black screen, giving a hint of what is to come. His direction is a large reason the film didn’t become a standard biopic that is good, but forgettable. The style and intercutting scenes make it hard to look away, even through the most difficult parts of the film. The giant and sweeping score also maintains the intensity and grandeur of Jackie. The close cut frame also makes it hard to look away from the pain of Jackie Kennedy, which Portman brings to life in an elegant and wonderful way.
Jackie doesn’t try to make Jackie Kennedy look like a hero. The film doesn’t smooth out or edges and try to make her likable. Jackie instead does something better, it tells the story of a complicated human who dealt with an unimaginable tragedy in front of the entire world. By doing this, the film not only soars but gives life to a woman whose conversation was dominated by the men in her life or her suffering.