Saturday, October 15, 2016

“Jackie”– Movie Review



This week, I attended the United States Premiere of the new biographical drama  “Jackie”, starring Natalie Portmanat The 54th New York Film Festival:  . 


Following the murder of her husband, can Jackie Kennedy figure out how to move forward in her life? 


In the days after President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was buried, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy (Portman) consents to a print interview with a reporter (Billy Crudup).  With the horrifying events of her husband’s assassination still fresh in the country’s mind, she is obviously in a very delicate emotional state.  Chain-smoking, Mrs. Kennedy answers questions about herself and about the events of the past few days, but comes across as quite defensive while doing so.  Is she uncomfortable dredging up these memories, even though they are still rather recent?  Or was she always uncomfortable about having to be The First Lady Of The United States? 

Jackie, as she was frequently called, recalls her tour of The White House which was televised back in 1961; in this telecast, she was given an opportunity to show off how she’s customized her surroundings, despite being publicly criticized for spending so much of the taxpayers’ money.  As the interview progresses, she also remembers not only the shooting but its aftermath as well and how she felt belittled by her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), who seemed not only overprotective but also trying to squeeze her out of some of the decision making process regarding the funeral and burial. 

As Jackie peels back each layer of her memory, she is also self-censoring – she reveals details to the interviewer, then tells him it’s not to appear in the final article.  But as painful as the incident itself was, the act of remembering it and being forced to deal with the aftermath are nearly as painful, if not equally so.  As she struggles to deal with the exigencies of the day, she also seeks solace from a Catholic priest.  Is it confession or merely to vent?  Not even they seem to know.  With her faith dwindling and her future and that of her children uncertain, can she successfully proceed with the rest of her life? 


While watching “Jackie”, there are two striking observations:  one is the movie’s soundtrack and the other is the performance by its star, Natalie Portman.  As far as the soundtrack is concerned, director Pablo Larraín (in his first English language film) makes an interesting use of combining both original score and source music.  Of particular note with respect to the source music is Richard Burton’s Broadway performance of “Camelot” in the closing minutes, effectively  providing viewers with the appropriate goose bumps moment many filmmakers seek but don’t always achieve.

Portman’s performance is truly remarkable; outside of clothing and hairstyle,  the actress doesn’t make an effort to resemble the protagonist but certainly does amazingly sound like her.  Jackie Kennedy Onassis was a physically beautiful woman, just as Portman is.  However, they don’t really resemble each other.  Nevertheless, Portman finds other ways to inhabit this character – or perhaps more accurately, to allow the character to inhabit her.  Either way, her portrayal of the woman’s understandably emotionally fragile state is as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking.     

Both the movie and the acting by Portman lend a deeply personal experience to the story, almost to the point the audience may feel as though they’re intruding on an incredibly private moment in someone’s life.  We see almost everything through Jackie’s eyes, even in the most intimate of times when she’s alone and self-medicating with bottles of wine as she tries on gown after gown as though she’s preparing for some kind of gala. 

Following the screening, there was an interview with Portman, Sarsgaard, screenwriter Noah Oppenheim and Larraín.  Portman admitted that she had trouble with getting Jackie’s accent right.  In researching the role, she said that she felt overwhelmed by the extensive amount of material she uncovered; instead, she wound up focusing on watching a video of the former First Lady’s televised tour of The White House, which ultimately assisted her in nailing the accent.  Larraín said that director Darren Aronofsky, one of the producers, wanted to get “Jackie” made and sent Portman the script.  He added that the iconic shot of Kennedy’s son saluting his father’s casket as it rolled by was filmed but ultimately edited out precisely because of the fact that the image is so famous; the scene containing The White House tour was not originally in the screenplay – it was added later to show Jackie early in her uncomfortable role as First Lady.  Sarsgaard also had trouble with creating Bobby Kennedy’s accent; he finally got it down by listening to recordings of Bobby and JFK having a telephone conversation (apparently, the brothers spoke their own shorthand language to each other, which was difficult to interpret).  Oppenheim mentioned that his goal was to focus on just that specific area of Jackie’s life (rather than doing the traditional cradle-to-grave biopic) because he’s an incredible  political junkie. 

Jackie (2016) on IMDb

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