As writers, we look to ways to quantify films and performances. Tour de force, edge of your seat, white knuckle ride, all terms that have been applied to films. Jackie, the newest film by Pablo Larrain, requires using such terminology because to accurately acertain why it’s so effective you need to dip into your well of comparisons. Jackie is a storm of a film, wracked with unending grief, hopes and dreams dashed, and singed together by some righteous anger.
Natalie Portman is Jackie Kennedy, renowned First Lady and widowed. Living out of the public eye, she invites a reporter to her house for an interview, that she hopes she can shape however she wants. Here’s the piece de resistance, it gets more complicated than that. We move through periods of Jackie’s life in the White House, the death of JFK, and what happened afterwards.
One thing that struck me the most about Jackie was the maelstrom effect the non linear narrative has on the film. Editing a movie is hard business, and Jackie’s not so secret weapon is how it employs its story. One minute we were in the past, then the past present, then the future past, then back to the present. Not since conjugating verbs in Spanish class has my brain been so wracked trying to understand the time something is happening. But that’s what’s amazing about Jackie, they found the perfect way to represent the way grief can fracture someone and how narrators can shape a story how they want. Form meeting function in the most effective of ways. Also meeting the function is Mica Levi, whose unsettling tunes for Under the Skin still resonate. He’s equally as emotionally impactful here, wrapping the music around not just the theater, but the emotions and visuals.
Pablo Larrain has one surest hands in the game today, in terms of directing. His political film No was a wonderful project and his sense of time and space as it relates to the filmed image is really good. With the exception of just one moment in the entire film, I felt his directorial choices were the right amount of understanding to the subject’s pain and digging deep beneath the surface.
This film however, rests on the very capable shoulders of Natalie Portman. Portman, an Oscar winner and two time nominee, is one of the actresses working today that can just completely knock you out when they are on their game. From the opening frames of this movie you feel the tempest that is Jackie: her life, her love, her sorrow, her disappointment and anger, and often times all at once. Jackie being one of our most famous (the most?) First Ladies is all about perception, even as she’s being interviewed to tell her story, requiring the editor to let her change things. The way Portman gets under the skin of this character and makes her more prickly and antagonistic, while still making us root for her the entire time, is something to be admired.