The elegiac and introspective drama Jackie is not an attempt at a traditional biopic of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and it’s all the more poignant as a result. Taking a very specific route with its narrative and presenting the story during the incredibly sad and difficult days that immediately followed her husband’s assassination, Pablo Larrain’s smart and affecting film features a stunning Natalie Portman, who appears in virtually every scene, as one of the world’s most iconic women. Noah Oppenheim’s carefully measured screenplay takes a very streamlined and psychological approach to how the former first lady processed the tragic events and how she was able to begin her grieving process, while shining a light on her request to honor her husband’s legacy. This is a very hard film to watch at times, and because Portman is so forceful and commanding as Jackie, you’re immediately invested as a viewer. She’s always had the ability to project a stern sense of control in all of her performances, so when playing a real person, it’s no surprise that she’d excel at capturing the essence of another human being.
The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces, all of whom do strong work, including Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Carroll Lynch, and the late John Hurt. Using two framing devices (her first interview after JFK’s death and Jackie’s famous tour of the White House which was aired on television) and positioning Jackie front and center, you’re never not in her head-space at any point during the film, and because of that, it’s easy to become wrapped up by the intense feelings of sadness that she must have been feeling. The interesting musical score by Micha Levi (Under the Skin) effectively heightened Jackie’s wobbly mental state at the time, while the matter of fact cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine took a front-row and intimate view of all the action and conversations that dominated the narrow time-frame. And the idea that this film was mostly shot in Paris boggles the mind; the production design by Jean Rabasse is remarkable. This is an excellent piece of work, and the first from Larrain that I’ve seen; I must seek out the rest of his work.