Jackie O K – ★★★
Pablo Larraín’s latest work Jackie is a strange beast. A deeply-flawed piece of work, but a must-see for film fans.
The film tells the story of the turning point in the life of one of the 20th century’s most famous women – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Natalie Portman) – as she sits down for an interview with a LIFE magazine journalist (Billy Crudup) and relives those final days of her time as First Lady.
The circumstances of the assassination of her husband has been depicted on screen numerous times, probably most memorably in Oliver Stone’s JFK back in 1991, but more recently in the underrated Peter Landesman 2013 film Parkland. But in comparison to magic bullets, Zapruder film and patsy theories, Jackie’s reaction feels relatively unexplored. She’s been a supporting character in all of these stories, but here, her and the famous pink Chanel suit are front and centre with JFK and brother Bobby (a restrained Peter Sarsgaard) relegated to supporting roles.
Natalie Portman is rightly being praised for her lead performance. She nails the voice, the walk, the little physical twitches but even more so we get that strange confluence of insecurity, confidence, elegance and arrogance that people associate with Jackie Kennedy.
There are flashback scenes of a 1962 White House tour that Larraín and his cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine shot on video which feel incredibly authentic and, when added to the choice to make the film with 16mm, creates a superb visual experience. Larraín famously utilised old TV news cameras and ¾ inch Sony U-matic magnetic tape on his Chilean drama No and no amount of digital treatment or post production can match that feel.
So the film looks the part, Portman as Jackie is a treat, Sarsgaard is a good Bobby – what could be the problem? Probably the biggest issue with the film is the lack of a decent narrative structure. It ambles along from memory to memory and even becomes quite boring and testing for the audience at times. Greta Gerwig is in there but is almost completely wasted as Jackie’s friend and social secretary. Mica Levi received lots of praise for her violin score to Under the Skin, and while the omnipresent drone tones of her work on Jackie are chilling at first, it becomes quite testing and repetitive.
Larraín’s decision to make this as a psychological horror experience rather than a straight biopic should be praised, but the film’s problems can’t be ignored.
Released across Ireland on January 20th 2017