It would have been easy for Pablo Larraín to turn his first Hollywood feature into a conventional drama, where Jackie Kennedy must overcome the death of her husband and regain her faith. An inspirational story of human resilience, made purely to collect gongs. Thankfully, he took a far more interesting route, creating an exquisite film in the process.
Natalie Portman excels as Jacqueline Kennedy. She truly shines during the big events of the film – told in flashback, via an interview with a journalist (Crudup). It is in these scenes that Portman reveals her brilliance. She paints a portrait of Kennedy as a spiky tactician that lies beneath a debutante veneer.
Despite being a film set in the 1960s, Jackie is very much a film enamoured with the classical period. Roman vases adorn its sets, and at one point a landscape shot looks like it was ripped from Ancient Greece. This motif emphasises the theme of legacy. As Jacqueline organises her first husband’s funeral she becomes obsessed with curating history’s perception of him. It all serves to make the film feel mythic, but also oddly cold at the same time.
That latter quality is ramped up by Jackie’s greatest strength: a soundtrack by Mica Levi. Similar to her fantastic score for Under the Skin, Levi establishes an uneasy tone from the very first moment. Her music communicates the queasy psychic disruption caused by JFK’s death, both on a personal level for Jackie and an historical level.
With its historical setting and publicity-grabbing performance of a famous figure, Jackie might be poised for awards-season prestige. However, it is a great film in its own right thanks to terrific direction, subtle performances and the best soundtrack of the year so far.
CAST: Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larraín
WRITER: Noah Oppenheimer
SYNOPSIS: An account of the days of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Portman) in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.