Jackie is a film that doesn't have to scream or strain for attention.
It easily could, as it's set in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963. But with Natalie Portman at the peak of her powers in the titular role, director Pablo Larrain instead confidently pitches this biopic of Jacqueline Kennedy at a different frequency, allowing the actress to mesmerize and guide audiences through the film with a tour-de-force portrayal that's not only right up there with the best she's ever produced, but easily one of the finest of 2016, too, making her an instant front-runner for the Best Actress Academy Award.
Calling Jackie a biopic isn't quite right, though. It's more a slice of life piece, which doesn't belie to Oscar bait tricks and takes a peak at a specific period of Jackie Kennedy's life that so just happens to be the most traumatic of her 64-years on Earth. And it's infinitely better for this approach, as this intensity makes the character of Jackie more illuminating and interesting.
Jackie opens with the arrival of Life magazine journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where he's been summoned by Mrs. Kennedy just a week after the assassination of her husband. With this as its backbone,Jackie moves back and forth between the hours before and after JFK's death, the days following, and even recreates her 1962 television special, A Tour Of The White House With Mrs. John. F. Kennedy. At the same time, Jackie struggles, alongside Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) to assert herself amidst the changing White House, visits a priest for guidance, and looks to shape and mould her husband's legacy with the help of White.
It's truly astonishing just how captivating Natalie Portman is as Jacqueline Kennedy. The Best Actress Oscar winner (Black Swan) is able to transition from harrowed widow to grieving mother to intent wife all within the blink of an eye, while her cadence and mannerisms of the First Lady are exactly right. Because of her attempts to take control of JFK's reputation in such a gutsy manner when all of the world was looking at her, there's a workmanlike appeal to Jackie that you can't help but feel impressed by. This juxtaposes with a deep sadness to Portman's portrayal that she persistently tries to cover up, but which still comes through, and makes her all the more the intriguing yet painful.
Even though Jackie Kennedy was one of the most recognizable women in the world, whose popularity and appeal eclipsed any actress of the same era, Portman is able to match these alluring traits. At the same time she imbues her with a cinematic edge and guile that keeps Jackie festering with a rightful anger.
Rather than just giving you insight into how she reacted to the death of her husband, which occurred right in front of her eyes as his body slumped onto her after the mortal shot, Portman's performance is so deep that it also teases why Jackie Kennedy decided to move out of public life after the tragedy and marry Aristotle Onassis, a man 23 years older than her.
Director Pablo Larrain also excels, always shooting for and finding the emotion of a scene, while allowing sequences to play out in a taut and surprising manner. Pablo Larrain knows where the heart and power of the film lays, and he frames Natalie Portman to make her look as majestic as possible, often placing her in the middle of the frame so that she comes across as a regal figure in a painting.
By relegating John F Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) to the background, Pablo Larrin uses his murder to examine themes of death, legacy, religion, and grief in a more layered and probing fashion. At the same time the moments when he gives us a glimpse at the tragedy are so harrowing that the impact reverberates throughout the film, especially thanks to images of Jackie bellowing and covered in blood. Credit too to Micas Levi's moody and rousing score that swirls and embodies the trouble and chaos of the film, while imposing itself but never feeling unwelcome.
But Jackie is all about Natalie Portman. While the gorgeous and mesmerizingly subversive biopic itself is destined to be cult rather than classic, hers is a performance for the ages, and one that makes Jackie utterly irresistible.