Director: Pablo Larrain
Screenwriter: Noah Oppenheim
Runtime: 100 mins
Australian release date: 12 January 2017
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney on 10 January 2017
In his bio-pic Jackie, the Chilean director Pablo Larraín has created not only a searing exposé of grief and trauma but also a portrait of a woman who understood communication in a way few did in her time.
In November 1963, at the time of her husband’s assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy was the First Lady, wife of President John F. Kennedy, and one of the most famous women of the age. In Larraín’s first English-language film she is brilliantly portrayed by Natalie Portman, who has caught Jackie’s every nuance, gesture and speech pattern and successfully brought her to full-blooded life. Based on a four-hour interview with Theodore H. White (played by Billy Crudup as an unnamed journalist) for Life magazine given only a week after the murder of the President, Jackie unfolds via a series of flashbacks that incorporate original footage with re-enactments of the dramatic events. These include recreations of scenes from CBS’s ground-breaking A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, when the First Lady walked through the White House discussing the renovations she’d made, her appearances at various functions in the presidential home, her role as a mother and wife of the most important man in the USA and, most importantly, as a young widow grappling with considerations of JFK’s legacy.
The assassination is dealt with in an exposed, raw, horrific way - Larraín fills his audience with empathy for this woman who spent terrifying minutes cradling her husband’s shattered skull in her lap as their open-top car raced to hospital. Realising that her husband’s rule had been tragically cut short, she tried desperately to take control of Kennedy’s image, linking his tenure with the legend of Camelot and by doing so, becoming one of the first people to recognise the power and influence of mass media.
Jackie should be acknowledged not only for fine performances by a stellar cast, which includes Peter Sarsgaard (as Bobby Kennedy), Greta Gerwig (in her role as Jackie’s confidante and secretary Nancy Tuckerman, who stayed on as her PA in the ensuing years), John Hurt (her priest) and Richard E. Grant (as Bill Walton, one of the Kennedy’s closest friends and advisors); the film also benefits from Noah Oppenheim’s clever script, Jean Rabasse’s strikingly accurate Production Design and Mica Levi’s haunting, emotional score. In a tough competitive year for the Oscars, Jackie may well be overlooked for the big prize, but it is a must for anyone interested in seeing one of the best films this year and to be reminded of a dark moment in history when life changed forever in the USA. The last word should go to scriptwriter Oppenheim, who said, “When I read about that single week in 1963 - when [Jackie] had to console two grief-stricken children, deal with moving out of what was really her only home, contemplate a whole different life moving forward, and at the same time had one last shot to solidify her husband's legacy - it was extraordinary. I couldn’t imagine a more revealing moment to explore one of the most interesting women of the last century.”