The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one of the defining moments of American history. Pablo Larrain's latest film Jackie is a character study of his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, in the week after her husband's death. Whilst still in mourning, Jackie (Natalie Portman) invites a journalist (Billy Crudup) to interview her where she recounts the events of that fateful week.
At first I found Portman's performance a little mannered, the way she spoke a little discordant. It sounded wrong. However, having found footage of the real Jackie Kennedy (the 1961 White House tour is available to view online), it's a remarkable facsimile. The real First Lady had a very distinct way of talking which Portman successfully captures. But the performance goes beyond impersonation to embodiment as Jackie's tumultuous emotions- ranging from anger and sorrow to steely determination- play across her face. There are a lot of scenes with very little dialogue but you know exactly how she's feeling at any given time. One scene- when Jackie returns to the White House after the assassination, still wearing the blood-stained clothes- is particularly powerful.
Such is the power of Portman's performance, that other performances don't quite reach the same level. Crudup's reporter is really only there to ask questions and to prompt the story forwards (I do wonder whether this framing device was strictly necessary). Peter Sarsgaard is strong as Bobby Kennedy, attempting to support Jackie in her grief whilst managing his own and trying to ensure the Kennedy legacy. Greta Gerwig is good as Jackie's friend and confidante Nancy, whilst there's a surprising turn by John Hurt as an Irish priest who counsels Jackie in her darkest hours.
Larrain mixes in real-life cinefootage with recreation to mostly good effect, although there are a couple of instances where this really jars (part of the funeral cortege, for example). The recreations, not only of the funeral procession but the assassination itself, are handled very well although the level of detail in the shooting may be too graphic for some people. The score- by Mica Levi- is also particularly strong.
Anchored by a very strong central performance, this is an absorbing study of a woman in crisis. It doesn't quite reach its full potential but is a strong drama nonetheless.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5