Movie Review: Jackie

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Director: Pablo Larraín

Writer: Noah Oppenheim

Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

Verdict: Really, really good

I miss John Hurt…

Jackie follows the story of Jaqueline Kennedy in the days after her husband’s death, how she copes with his death, how she seeks to honour him, and how she, in a way, begins to fill his shoes and come out of her shell and the performance she’d gradually learnt as the first lady.

I’ve seen Jackie a couple of times now. After the first time I was trepedatious to say the least about the second. Due to the nature of the screenplay which bounces around time and space like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, and the cold nature of Jackie herself, it was every now and then a cold experience and it did drag a fair amount. I was so worried I’d have a similar experience to The Revenant, which was; I see it once, get knocked out by it’s technical acomplishment, however my mind wonders in places because, let’s face it, that film is a fucking slog, then I see it again with other people and fall asleep – because Jackie is impecably made, but my mind did wonder at several points on my first viewing. Therefore, it is a joy to tell you then I really liked it, if anything I liked it more a second time round. The first time it seemed terribly long, and very detached, I interacted with it very much as an intellectual excercise. However, the second time round it went just like that, and it was so emotional. I felt on the verge of tears the virtually whole way through. It’s such a mournful, full depiction of grief. It’s one of the most experiential, sucessful, and accurate depictions of shock that I’ve seen actually since I actually read Slaughterhouse 5.

What’s even more surprising then is, not necessarily how funny, but how witty the script is – the central interview plays out like a thrilling chess game in parts, not least the clip that’s been circulated for all the publicity. It’s interesting that Jackie is a film about a woman, but almost all the key supporting performances bar Greta Gerwig, (Frances Ha, 20th Century Women), are men, given the themes of the film. The supporting performances are all universally pretty good. John Hurt, (V for Vendetta, AlienTinker Tailor Soldier Spy), miss him already, can’t hold his Irish accent, but the rest of his performance is superb as we’ve come to expect from such a master of cinema. Some of his dialogue takes on new meanings after his death, having watched the film either side of it. Peter Sarsgaard, (Jarhead, Orphan), puts in a fine turn as Bobby Kennedy. Richard E Grant, (Withnail & I, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), has essentially a walk on performance but it is always a joy to see Richard E Grant on screen really. That being said, they are supporting performances in the literal sense. This is really the Natalie Portman show and she really carries off this performance with some brio and gusto. It has that imposing quality of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood but much more nuanced and sympathetic.

The film is made by an Argentinian filmmaker called Pablo Larraín, and a few days ago the trailer for his next film Neruda dropped. It’s also a biopic and once more it looks more daring, inventive, and unique than just a more by the numbers biopic. The film is very well directed; it looks like it was shot on the same degraded 35mm stock as the very fine Carol. It’s shot in the academy ratio which is much taller than what most people shoot, and like Carol this has the effect of putting a needle drop sound effect on a CD, it creates a vintage, recent period setting. It also means that when they splice in old footage with Natalie Portman digitally put in, it looks more real and organic.

Jackie is no ordinary biopic. It shares very little with much more Hollywood like stories like The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, or Lincoln. This film achieves what many of those don’t, which is to paint a textured portrait of a real life character without constantly slipping into caricature. It’s a film about a woman finding her own voice in the void of a man, it’s a film about the past, it’s a film about politics, it’s a film about a woman forced to take on several  facades and trying to maintain that in the face of terrible tragedy, it’s a film about death and religion, it’s also a film about the American people and media and with a Donald Trump presidency that’s more relavant than anyone would have wanted. It’s surprising then that Jackie isn’t a horribly dense mess, it’s really not, and it’s actually structured a lot more formally than it appears to, to make sure of that. Jackie is a touching, well-acted, well made, biopic with Portman’s best performance since Black Swan. If she doesn’t take home the Oscar I’ll be very surprised.

One quick note, no one’s been talking about two very key aspects to Jackie. Mica Levi is quickly becoming one of my favourite composers, what with her superb work on Under the Skin, and her score here which is superb. Her score actually adds an element of the horror film to procedings, partially inspired by Johnny Greenwood’s score on There Will Be Blood, another film with surprising horror influences, her score is really unsettling. Also wouldn’t it be great if she wins the Oscar with such a male dominated set of technical Oscar nominations this year. The other thing is the rest of the sound, the sound design has been really undermentioned in reviews. It is suberb, and really aids the lived in feel of the film, which is really necessary for something like a biopic.

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