David Prendeville takes another look at Pablo Larrain’s Jackie.

An examination of Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film begins with a journalist (Crudup) coming to the White House to interview Jackie. She discusses how the events unfolded, though she is quite clear that there are some things she says and does which she will allow to be published and some things she won’t. We then flash back and forward between days before the assassination, the assassination itself and Jackie’s subsequent strength, and to certain extent, performance in the face of the ensuing turmoil.

Jackie is a hard film to fault but also one that rarely sets the pulses racing. It is fairly intelligent and subtle in its dealing with a monumental historical event and as a character study. It also exhibits some wisdom in its examination of grief. It’s beautifully shot by Stephane Fontaine and brilliantly edited by Sebastian Sepulveda, with Larrain continuing his experimentation of blurring historical footage with the action of the drama in the same vein as his 2012 Pinochet drama No. The score by Mika Levi (Under the Skin) is discordant and unsettling. It adds an interesting obtrusive element to the proceedings, though it feels somewhat under-used.

The acting is uniformly impressive and subtle. Portman gives a quietly powerful performance. It occasionally feels like the sort of worthy impersonation of a historical figure that garners awards but for the most part Portman eschews these pitfalls. Like most things in the film she retains an admirable, if somewhat mundane, restraint.  There is solid supporting work from Peter Sarsgaard (as Bobby Kennedy), John Hurt and Crudup. Greta Gerwig lends her considerable charisma to the role of Nancy Tuckerman, one of Jackie’s most trusted advisors, though it feels somewhat wasteful to give an actor of her calibre such little screen time.

The film is somewhat unconventional for a Hollywood biopic but Larrain’s questioning of the veracity of imagery seems undercooked and one-note. The idea that Jackie must put on a performance for the good of her country is simple and mused upon to an extent beyond its depth or profundity as an idea. Formally also, the blurring of real footage with the artificial retelling, though impressively done, seems meagre in its scope. Jackie’s existential wrestling with mortality in the immediate aftermath is somewhat more interesting. She confides her fears with a priest (Hurt) and he offers no easy answers but speaks honestly about what it is that motivates people to live and carry on in the midst of unspeakable pain, anguish and fear. There’s a bluntness and honesty to these scenes.

There are moments where Larrain pushes things into close to uncomfortable territory. Watching Jackie undress from her bloodied clothes after the shooting feels like an intrusion of sorts. He also recreates the shooting itself and the shot to John F. Kennedy’s skull in one extremely explicit close-up. However, for the most part, Larrain seems to be on better behaviour then the quasi-provocateur of films such as The Club and Tony Manero. The whole endeavour, while admirable to a certain degree, also feels somewhat sedated.

This is a tasteful, accomplished piece of filmmaking but one that lacks the inspiration and danger of this director’s best work.


Jackie is currently in cinemas


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