Not your conventional biopic, Jackie mostly focuses on one specific period in its subject’s life, the days following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy when Jacqueline Kennedy became the world’s most famous widow. As a framework for the film, it uses a fictionalised encounter between Jackie and a journalist (Billy Crudup) who comes to interview her soon after she packs her bags and leaves the White House. The interview is somewhat tense; the journalist’s attitude is not necessarily reverential and Jackie displays candour and calculation in equal measure.
I admit, the whole Kennedy myth has never been of much fascination to me personally, but a good film can make any subject under the sun interesting if it’s well done. The biggest weapon this movie has is undoubtedly Natalie Portman’s powerhouse performance, which deservedly won her plaudits and nominations. Playing an icon can be tricky; Portman’s innate elegance did make her seem a natural choice for the role, but she also always had this little-girl vibe about her which made me doubt if she could pull off playing a, for the lack of better expression, womanly woman. However her transformation is convincing right off the bat. It’s a highly mannered performance that makes Jackie perhaps hard to truly warm to – her solitary moments of grief and tears aside, one gets a feeling of an invisible wall whenever she’s interacting with other people, even her own children. But it’s never less than captivating to watch, as Jackie navigates the whirlwind of personal shock, politics and media management, wishing more than anything else for her husband and his all-too-brief legacy immortalised above a historical footnote (as she remarks in one scene, two American presidents died while in the office without leaving a trace in public memory).
The fractured narrative of the film does well to mirror its heroine’s chaotic state of mind in the days after her husband’s death, and while the movie is sombre it never feels stuffy or lifeless. The excellent supporting cast includes the late John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy (it’s rather amusing to think that he and Portman were both in Garden State in very different roles from Jackie) and almost-unrecognisable Greta Gerwig who lends warmth as Jackie’s secretary and confidante. As expected, the costume design is to die for and a heavenly manna for the eyes.