Jackie Review: The Fall of Camelot

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There is not a human being living or dead who can begin to understand what Jackie Kennedy went through the days following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Forced to grieve the loss of her husband publicly, including on live television, no single soul has been faced with such an uncomfortable laying to rest of a loved one. Portrayed on film, Jackie captures an eerily off-center tone that is unlike any biopic of late.

Centered on the immediate aftermath of the president’s massive spectacle of a funeral, and a key interview with Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) for Life magazine, the film grimly stumbles from scene to scene, purposefully losing sight of its various flashback timelines to create a sense of quiet chaos, which oddly mirrors how many Americans seemed to feel following Donald Trump’s win earlier this month. Edited like Jackie’s own personal nightmare slideshow of manufactured happiness, saving face for the media, grief, and just a few glimmers of actual happiness, director Pablo Larrain carries the film with a fluid uneasiness as if the whole thing takes place in some bizzaro world where there’s nothing but despair. Instead of trying to capture routine mourning, Jackie goes for an uncomfortable daze with no splash of cold water in sight. Mica Levi’s magnificent, daring score contributes to the hints of surrealism that pervade the film.

As Jackie, Portman seems almost alien. Forced by the media and Washington itself to process her emotions and act on them with great haste, not every decision the former First Lady makes is logical. In a few key scenes, sure to get Portman at the very least back on the Oscar ballot, we see the cold detachment come to rest permanently on her face amongst the turmoil she feels as a mother, a wife, the First Lady, and a more Hollywood-like celebrity. Portman perfectly restrains herself when she needs to, but her performance is also necessarily physical, similar in commitment but different in execution to her spectacular turn in Black Swan. She carries the film from its dour chill to something human, even when her subject is seemingly inhuman and larger than life.

The supporting cast barely gets a word in edgewise. Greta Gerwig’s Nancy Tuckerman is set up as a source of compassion, but never gets a scene to come into her own. Peter Sarsgaard’s Bobby Kennedy is pivotal, but also lacking a scene to hammer home his personal struggle. And that’s fine, Jackie doesn’t need to belong to anyone but its titular figure.

The best secondary player is Billy Crudup’s Theodore H. White, the reporter interviewing Jackie after her husband’s death. Instead of a being a source of alienation to the former First Lady, he listens as she bends the interview to her will, bringing up questions of truth and legacy. The portions of the film where Jackie seems at war with her own genuine self are its most fascinating. What damage has the limelight done to a person who perhaps never asked to be loved by so many, but embraced it anyway? Is she the version of herself before moving into the White House, the version the media puts forward, or a hybrid of both? Who does she get to be now that she’s not the First Lady? Much of Jackie is about how her husband’s sudden and tragic death forces her to confront every side of herself, genuine or not, at a time where grief has left her stoic. The film’s coldness is occasionally off-putting, causing some emotional detachment, but the core of its exploration of grief and celebrity is harrowing and honest. For that, Jackie actually manages to create something fresh, which is no small feat in this dull year for cinema. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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