Review: Haunting 'Jackie' Impeccably Filmed

Review: Haunting 'Jackie' Impeccably Filmed

In Jackie, director Pablo Larrain’s haunting account of the immediate aftermath of the JFK assassination told through the eyes of his wife, Natalie Portman gives one of her finest performances as a woman forced to cope with a horrific act of violence and its immediate repercussions.

Despite the title, this is not a biopic but rather an intense recreation of a very particular time and place, seen many times before but rarely recreated to such precise detail.

The film takes place during the days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, with a framing device of Portman’s Jacqueline Kennedy giving an interview with a reporter played by Billy Crudup.

Jackie, of course, was sitting next to her husband when he was shot in Dallas, struck first through the neck before a second bullet shattered his skull. In the Zapruder film, we can see her scramble onto the trunk of the limo to save pieces of her husband’s head. On the minute’s long drive to the hospital, she holds him in her lap.

The assassination itself, in both verbal descriptions given by Portman’s Jackie to Crudup’s journalist and (in the film’s climactic scenes) graphically recreated on screen, is one of the most striking and definitive versions of this event ever put to film.

Larrain’s techniques throughout the movie - grainy footage, 1.66:1 aspect ratio - recreate the time and place with impeccable detail, aided by the flawless period costumes and props. That makes the graphic bloodshed, ripping through the 1960s nostalgia, even more devastating.

In the hours and days after the assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson (Zodiac’s John Carroll Lynch) is sworn in as president, John’s brother Bobby (a miscast, but effectively grim Peter Sarsgaard) flies in to aide and protect Jackie, and funeral arrangements are made and debated.

Additional flashbacks recreate Jackie’s famous White House Tour in precise detail, going so far as to only use equipment available in 1962. But since they don’t seems to have much to do with the rest of the movie, one wonders why they were included at all, other than give audiences a direct comparison between Portman’s performance and the real deal.

Portman might win her second Oscar for her note-perfect recreation of Jackie, but as with many performances of this type, it’s so close to the real thing it falls into an uncanny valley: Portman gets all the mannerisms and speech patterns right, but the end result is something of a waxwork imitation rather than a three-dimensional character.

This is particularly apparent during heartfelt scenes with a priest played by John Hurt; the effort the actress takes to get the performance just right seems to get in the way of the emotional undercurrent contained in the script.  

Also Oscar-nominated: Madeline Fontaine’s flawless costume design, which recreates Jackie’s pink Chanel dress and pillbox hat, among other items, and Mica Levi’s original score, which is moody and effective but played at such a high volume it frequently overtakes the whole film.

By the end, Jackie doesn’t tell a story so much as present a revealing series of events that perfectly recreates the immediate aftermath of the assassination from a point of view rarely seen before. While impeccably staged, shot, and executed, it won’t be an ideal piece of entertainment for many.

Still, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be seen and, perhaps more importantly, experienced. It’s a haunting, evocative memory of one of the most significant events of the 20th century.

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