A director I was unfamiliar with before this year, 2016 has proven to be my crash course in the works of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín. In March, I checked out his film The Club, a pretty boundary pushing film about a halfway house of disgraced priests, which I thought was phenomenal. Then at the Vancouver International Film Festival, I saw the film Neruda, something that I thought would be a straightforward biopic about the famous South American poet but was more a surreal cat and mouse film that had me quite disappointed. Now, he approaches another true historical figure with Jackie, a film that shows a part of the former First Lady of the United States that we’ve never been privy to.
Taking place in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Larraín takes a two-sided angle at this story. It opens with an unnamed journalist visiting Jackie Kennedy at her Hyannis Port, Massachusetts home only weeks after the events in Dallas. We see a grieving widow in an angry and defiant mood, unwilling to give this Life magazine reporter an inch. Cross cut with this is her day leading up to that fateful and life changing moment, from preparing herself on Air Force One to the gunshot on that Texas street. We see her in the car with a fallen JFK, cleaning the blood off her face and neck in that same airplane bathroom and even trying to give the terrible news to her children, Caroline and John Jr. It is within this time that we see this loss change Jackie from the doting wife to the strong woman she became through to the end of her life.
With cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (responsible for such incredible films as A Prophet, Rust And Bone and this year’s films Captain Fantastic and Elle), we are immersed in the authenticity of the time and place. Larraín and Fontaine create what looks like living photographs as we move through this pivotal time in American government. Adding more to that realism is Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie, one that will certainly earn her a spot on the shortlist for Best Actress. Besides the look of this film, she is worth the viewing – but the standout of this movie, something that will always be forefront in my mind when thinking about it, is the score.
Mica Levi, known for the experimental pop group Micachu but also the haunting music from the film Under The Skin, delivers a sound that is unorthodox and refreshingly “out there,” something that is noticed from the opening shot of Jackie in the front yard of her home. As a real musical score buff, it’s an album that I will keep in my collection and bring out when the subject of completely original film pieces is discussed. This and Portman are so good that it may make other things in this film pale, which includes one of my favorite actresses, Greta Gerwig, who seems to disappear in this film completely as background fluff. I know the focus is supposed to be on our main subject but everyone in this film, as well cast and great in their field they are, seem to just be the wallpaper, unimportant to the final goal. This may cause the film to be a little duller than intended and may take you out of the film a bit. 3.5/5