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Jackie - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Acting: A+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A
Editing: A

Natalie Portman's performance as the First Lady in Jackie is nothing short of astonishing. Not only does she perfectly embody the spirit of Jacqueline Kennedy, she does it in a way that blends seamlessly with the occasionally blended-in original footage of the real-life woman. This perhaps most notably occurs during the White House Tour documentary film she hosted for television in 1961, but the effect is sprinkled here and there throughout the rest of the film, such as when she walks her two children out the front door of the White House for the last time. This sort of filmmaking is hardly new, but it was a bit more of a gimmick in, say, Forrest Gump, in which Tom Hanks was digitally inserted into old footage of John F. Kennedy. Here the actors are playing the very people we see brief glimpses of, and it isn't gimmicky at all.

On the contrary, director Pablo Larraín (here quite impressively presenting his first English language feature) makes it feel like we are watching the actual historical figures, even though we know we are looking at actors. It's very rare that a biopic of any sort is done brilliantly, let alone right, and Jackie hits it on every mark.

There's something very bittersweet and appropriately somber about this movie and the timing of its release. That television documentary Jackie hosted was all about her restoration of the White House, informed by her deep appreciation for American history, and especially her affinity for the Lincolns (evidently Lincoln's procession was what inspired her to insist on a procession for her husband, in spite of arguably justified fears for her family's safety in the aftermath of his assassination). One can hardly watch this movie and not think about the radically different symbolism of Trumps living in that house. Does Melania Trump have any sense of the historical import of the position she's about to be in? God knows Donald Trump doesn't.

There's nothing about Jackie, mind you, that deliberately calls to mind any of modern politics; I'm just commenting on what it brought to mind for me as an audience member. And although this is one heavy movie about one of America's greatest tragedies, it does offer some lines in which I took genuine comfort. Jackie spends a lot of time with an elderly priest (John Hurt), just so she has someone to confide in, and when she asks him, "Why do we bother?" he replies, "We just do. We did today, and we will tomorrow."

The framework of the plot of this movie is vaguely Citizen Kane-esque as the story unfolds while Jackie is being interviewed by a reporter (Billy Crudup). There is some pointed commentary on the nature of journalism and history here, as Jackie gets a bit tyrannical about what she will or will not allow him to print: "I don't smoke," she asserts, with a cigarette in her hand. After she offers some clearly juicy bit of copy, the journalists says, "I suppose you won't allow me to print that?" and she replies, "Of course not. Because I never said it."

This sort of dialogue works perfectly for a cinema biopic, which by definition is expected to take artistic license. A movie is not a historical document, and of course Natalie Portman is not Jackie Kennedy. But she is an utterly convincing version of her, a grieving widow meandering through recollections of her husband, his murder still fresh in her memory. As such, the story jumps back and forth between the interview and these memories in a nonlinear fashion, but frequently back to that White House documentary, which grounds her place in Presidential history in spite of the chaos of how it ended. It's easy to forget that John F. Kennedy was only President for just short of three years. He is easily the 20th Century equivalent of Abraham Lincoln in terms of legacy, but Jackie went out of her way to secure a legacy for herself far removed from -- and easily surpassing that of -- Mary Todd. No one's making any biopics of Mary Todd Lincoln, after all.

So much of the end of Kennedy's life is still so famous -- even more than fifty years later -- that Pablo Larraín could be considered restrained in how many of the most iconic moments are included here. What he does is place us on the other side of those cameras, in the midst of real, human grief rather than the haunting staleness of old footage. Jackie wanders aimlessly through the rooms of the White House, blood still splattered on her pink skirt. And it is gorgeously shot; Jackie is heartbreaking and beautiful in equal measure. The same could be said of the unusually memorable score by Mica Levi, its melancholy crescendos leaping off the screen from the opening shot.

Another surprise: Peter Sarsgaard is also perfectly cast, as Bobby Kennedy. This is a guy who does not often blend into his roles (in spite of his performances being consistently excellent), but I easily bought him as Bobby. Everyone in supporting roles here is at the top of their game, really, not least of which is Greta Gerwig as Jackie's assistant, Nancy. Between the acting, the editing, the writing, the cinematography -- Jackie is an exceptional film on all fronts, making it easily one of the best movies of the year.

"The world's gone mad," says Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant), and we are reminded that the country has felt such things before -- and then, in time, come back from it again. I do wonder if I am in the minority when it comes to the amount of hope I ultimately gleaned from Jackie. It's a sad story indeed, but also, it's hard not to be inspired in the face of so much excellence. This movie honors the legacy of the Kennedys well, in a way few other movies ever could.

Natalie Portman is amazing as the titular JACKIE.

Overall: A
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