Hot Take: Believe all of the great things you’ve read or heard about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy. The best movie of 2016.
Just two days ago, I wrote how Viola Davis was a shoo-in for a nomination for an Academy Award and should probably win. Since Davis is likely to be nominated for Supporting Actress, I don’t have to eat crow. Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie is the performance of the year. Not just among women, either. Portman breathes life into an iconic character in a way seldom seen on screen. It’s the performance of her career which includes her role in Black Swan where she took home practically every award you could for that performance.
Jackie is more than a stunning, insightful and captivating lead performance, though. The film itself is brilliant. It takes risks in its portrayal of an icon and recreates the JFK assassination in a truly unique perspective. From the viewpoint of the widowed mother of two who is left behind to deal with the aftermath of one of America’s great tragedies, we also get a glimpse into when America lost its innocence and became a much colder, sardonic place. It’s hard to take your eyes off of Portman as she paints a picture of Mrs. Kennedy never seen. In the face of adversity she attempts to maintain her composure and sanity despite being shaken beyond measure.
The film, told in flashbacks, oozes with the grace of its subject even in its darkest moments. It’s beautifully captured by director Pablo Larrain who delivers more than a character study. It is such an intimate look into Kennedy, it at times feels like we are watching something we shouldn’t be privy to. As we jump back and forth between a post-assassination interview, a recreation of the iconic televised White House tour, the immediate aftermath of the assassination and the funeral arrangements, Jackie delivers one of the most captivating biopics in recent memory. It has all of the elements of a docudrama yet it rarely if ever feels like one. It never pretends to be 100% accurate but nothing in the film ever feels fabricated or placed for dramatic effect. Honestly, it could very well be 100% accurate but since Kennedy herself passed away 12 years ago, it’s hard to fact check some of the most intimate insights the film provides.
The interview captured in the film features Billy Crudup as “The Journalist” but is actually a portrayal of Time reporter Theodore H. White who was given the opportunity to interview Kennedy at her Hyannis Port home a few days after the assassination. The Time piece provides the framework for Jackie as it fills in the gaps with historical accounts and intimate looks at conversations as they might have taken place between the widowed Kennedy, her children, Bobby Kennedy, the Johnsons and their staff as they assume the responsibilities of the Presidency and a priest. With each scene, we get glimpses into Kennedy — an iconic, well-known historical figure — that feel like we’re looking at the character for the first time, or at least in a way we’ve never quite seen before.
There are few films I walk out of and want to walk right back in and watch again. It’s even more rare for it to not be an summer popcorn flick or one of the Star Wars episodes. Jackie happens to be one of those films. It’s something I want to see again as I imagine there will be things I didn’t grasp or catch the first time through that will make the film that much more enjoyable. In 2016, there have been very few films of that ilk. It’s fitting since there have been very few characters of the ilk of the Kennedys and Jacqueline Kennedy, probably most of all.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Portman’s Portrayal
The stunning portrayal by Portman of Jacqueline Kennedy is likely to be the most memorable performance of 2016. There is no argument that she becomes someone else and that the performance is something else. There’s barely an argument against the performance being the best of 2016.
- The Eeriness of It All
We’ve become desensitized to a lot of the pain, grief and suffering that happens around us. Somehow, Jackie breaks its way through that desensitization and makes us feel along with the main character who at time seems numb to it all and in other moments seems grief stricken beyond repair.
- The Priest Scenes
There are scenes around a conversation between Jackie and a priest (John Hurt) who she speaks to after the death of her husband. We have no way of knowing if such a conversation ever took place but it is in that conversation we gain so much insight into not just the character but into life, love, fear and the meaning of it all which actually might be that there are no real answers and the only way to answer the questions is to stop asking them.