The Movie Waffler New Release Review - JACKIE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - JACKIE

In the aftermath of her husband's assassination, Jackie Kennedy is interviewed by a Life magazine reporter.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Pablo Larrain

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E Grant

A South American with leftist leanings, Pablo Larrain was never likely to deliver a love letter to an American First Lady, but nor is Jackie a hatchet job, falling somewhere between the sycophancy of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the mockery of Oliver Stone's W.

One of comedian Lenny Bruce's more controversial routines involved his take on Jackie Kennedy's immediate reaction to the shooting of her husband. Where the media and most of the American public saw bravery in the reaction of their First Lady, Bruce merely saw panic. His argument was that Jackie wasn't some ethereal Goddess, that she was merely one of us, reacting with fear as we all might, and that was perfectly fine.

America doesn't like to portray its icons as mortals, which is why Noah Oppenheim's screenplay, a deconstruction of the Jackie myth, is directed by a non-American, Chile's Pablo Larrain, Spanish language cinema's most exciting working filmmaker making his English language debut. A South American with leftist leanings, Larrain was never likely to deliver a love letter to an American First Lady, but nor is Jackie a hatchet job, falling somewhere between the sycophancy of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and the mockery of Oliver Stone's W.

Covering the week following JFK's assassination, Jackie is framed by its title character's (Natalie Portman) interview by Life magazine reporter Theodore H White (Billy Crudup). The interactions between the widow and the writer are arguably the most genuine we see throughout the film. Unlike everyone else in Jackie's life, White isn't there to make her feel good, simply to get a juicy story, and she displays more warmth towards the reporter than to any of the political allies and hangers on we meet in the film's flashbacks.

These flashbacks shun the usual tacky biopic cliches. There are no awkwardly triggered memories; instead, Larrain structures these scenes like Terence Malick's recent works, his protagonist keeping her grief internalised as his camera floats in her presence, at times like an angel waiting to claim her as it shadows Jackie in her moments of private grief, at others like a bee poised to sting as it observes her often narcissistic actions.

I'm not sold on the idea of Portman as a great actress. While she was a natural child star, her adult performances always come off as just that...performances. Her acting is always visible, and that's the case here, but in this case it works, as she's essaying a character whose entire public life was a performance. She may not physically resemble Jackie Kennedy, but she embodies the spirit of a public icon, and she's never less than riveting to watch.

The same goes for the supporting cast, in particular Peter Sarsgaard, who is so captivating as Bobby Kennedy that you'll be wishing he gets his own film. Greta Gerwig and Richard E Grant are close to unrecognisable, immersed in the roles of Jackie's secretary Nancy Tuckerman and her artistic adviser William Walton respectively. John Hurt's dodgy Oirish accent can't ruin a touching turn as Jackie's spiritual guide, Father Richard McSorley.

Members of the Kennedy cult may find much to ruffle their feathers here, from the portrayal of Jackie as a solipsistic materialist whose face lights up at the sight of a new dress in a store window hours after she buries her husband, to Bobby's rant about 'teeing up Vietnam' for LBJ to knock down. For neutral observers it's a refreshing look behind one of America's most guarded political curtains.

Stephane Fontaine's 16mm cinematography, employing that most un-American of aspect ratios - 1.66:1, offers some of the year's most memorable images, but whether intentional or not, the most striking impression is of Jackie, a woman, taking a seat behind the desk of the Oval Office, as much of an anachronism today as in 1963.

Jackie is in cinemas January 20th 2017.