The assassination of John F. Kennedy was a tragic event. All the drama and mystery surrounding it is one of the more fascinating pieces in America history. Likewise, Jacqueline Lee Kennedy is perhaps one of the most prominent First Lady’s in our nation’s history. The new film, JACKIE, by director Pablo Larrain and writer Noah Oppenheim, somehow manages to make an interesting topic, less interesting.
Following the moments surrounding the assassination of President JFK, JACKIE focuses solely on First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Told in somewhat of a flashback form, Jackie (Natalie Portman) relays her story to a journalist (Billy Crudup). Lighting up a cigarette but quietly demanding that be off the record, Jackie is in complete control of the conversation. As she battles grief, raising her children, and moving out of the White House, Jackie’s main purpose is to sustain her husband’s legacy.
I appreciate the central focus on the First Lady during such a strenuous time. However, I’m not sure what director Pablo Larrain is wanting to achieve. The difference in Jackie from interview to her flashbacks were contradictory in character. Not that one could ever fault any actions when losing a loved one in the manner that she did, but I was never sure if the film was aiming to perceive Jackie as strong or simply more of an empty vessel that only hoped to look strong.
Immediately swearing in Vice President Lyndon B Johnson, suddenly needing to pack up and leave the White House, and how to deal with such young children who lost their father under the scrutiny of the public eye are all fascinating moments to spotlight. JACKIE only touches on some of these genuine moments and instead relishes on long lingering looks and unnecessary monologuing about the importance of their legacy. For such a historically tragic event, there is a surprising void of emotional investment or intrigue.
Natalie Portman will more than likely earn her second Oscar win since 2010’s BLACK SWAN. While she probably does a perfect imitation of Jackie Kennedy, I found the performance to be transparent as an acting portrayal rather than a genuine embodiment. To be fair to the talents of Portman, I’ve generally felt that portraying famous people with established characteristics to be a little less impressive than creating a new character. I could never quite shake the idea that I was watching Natalie Portman acting rather than Jackie Kennedy.
Technically the film is sound with gorgeous art direction and beautiful costuming that places the period and characters perfectly. But no matter how much you dress up a poor screenplay, the ultimate product will be unfulfilling. The extreme claustrophobic closeups of characters along with a tension building score are unusual choices that may have been better suited for a suspense thriller.
Perhaps that strange, uncomfortable feeling is what JACKIE was meant to be, but for what reason? As a biopic, I came away somehow knowing nothing new and feeling a bit mistreated. Jackie Kennedy’s viewpoint during her husband’s assassination and the immediate aftermath is definitely a compelling story worth telling, but JACKIE is a lost opportunity that cares more about looks than substance.