Biopics are a tricky subject for me: like biographies, I only like a certain few, but if I like it, I LOVE it. One of my favourites of all time is Capote, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman managing to capture the larger-than-life man in a dark but brilliant portrayal of the author’s biggest novel. Like Capote, Natalie Portman’s Jackie takes the defining moment in one of America’s most-loved women and turns it into a haunting story of grief and strength.
After the death of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) fights to secure her husband’s legacy and regain control of her life, as she struggles through the grief and trauma of his assassination. The story, told over the course of ten days from John’s death to his funeral, uses a candid interview with Billy Crudup’s unnamed journalist to frame the film, and from the moment Jackie takes control of the interview within the first few minutes we meet the steadfast image woman that Jackie Kennedy was.
Though at first it is jarring to see Portman look so much like Kennedy, she soon gets lost in a performance that is measured and calculated through every moment, just like Jackie herself. The film rests on her shoulders as Portman intricately showcases a woman who is acting through her entire life, always poised and graceful, fully aware of the image the First Family must maintain. Through strikingly re-enacted historical footage we see Jackie’s dedication to preserving and cultivating American Presidential history, and she continues to ensure John’s lasting impression on the country after his death, becoming obsessed with his public funeral in an attempt to cope with her grief in the only way she knows how – publicly.
Yet it is her unguarded, intimate moments that are the most heartbreaking and beautiful to watch, where Portman’s hard-faced Jackie becomes sublime. Dancing drunkenly to records as she tries on old gowns in her bedroom, smoking up a storm; her hoarse, broken voice as she screams ‘Jack’ in the back of the Lincoln, roaring down the highway; her shaking hands as she scrubs his blood from her face. Portman so hauntingly portrays the complexities of public and private grieving with one of the most public figures of all time, creating a ghostly portrait of a landmark moment in history.
Portman is aided by absolutely breathtaking direction from Pablo Larrain, his gorgeous palettes of white, red and Jackie’s iconic brunette hair crafting a sterile setting for the calculating, careful Jackie. Portman is never allowed to breathe with Larrain’s close-ups, Mica Levi’s almost eerie soundtrack building it up, but when Jackie is allowed to release herself in quiet moments, dancing to Camelot and opening up to John Hurt’s Priest in the park, Larrain’s sweeping shots and swirling colours give the film a lucid quality, a dream Jackie must wake up from.
The saddest part of Jackie’s story is her compulsion for perfection, as she tries to retake control of her life in the only way she knows how – publicly – but what will happen when she is no longer in the spotlight? In what is a definite Oscar-contention role for her, Portman’s Jackie is controlled, yet emotional; Larrain’s picture of sadness and anger has a soul that reverberates through Jackie as her perfect life falls apart around her.
It’s a small cast, but a brilliant one, so here’s my top five favourite films and starring the cast of Jackie:
- Thor – Natalie Portman (I really need to watch more of her movies)
- To Rome With Love – Greta Gerwig
- Big Fish – Billy Crudup
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – John Hurt
- Spotlight – Billy Crudup
Photos taken from IMDB.com: