The 22nd of November, 1963. It’s one of the most recognizable dates in the history of Western civilization, and not because it was the last day in history before Doctor Who began (as significant as that may be). We’ve all heard the story – Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Book Despository in Dallas, Texas, shot the President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy. Or maybe someone on a grassy knoll did it?
It was a shocking event, and one that is etched into the collective soul of everyone who lived during that period. Jackie tells this story from a new perspective, one that focuses not on the political ramifications or the conspiracy theories, but on the more personal story of the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, who went from a powerful woman on the world stage to a grieving mother in the space of one motorcade trip.
The film is loosely based upon Jackie’s interview with respected reporter Theodore H. White, which appeared in the Life magazine one week after the death of JFK. In this historic interview, Jackie compares the Presidency of her husband favourably to the kingdom in her husband’s favourite film, Camelot. In the film, Jackie is seen to be obsessed with ensuring that the legacy of her husband matches that of the great Presidents, in particular Abraham Lincoln, and that his sacrifice would not be in vein. While disjointed, the film follows Jackie through key events such as the assassination itself, the mourning process and the funeral arrangements as she fights to ensure that her husband gets the perfect send-off, despite the disapproval from various powerful figures like President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Secret Service and her own brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy.
It’s a fairly interesting premise for a movie, but at the end of the day this film works for one reason, and one reason only – Natalie Portman. A fantastic actor when she isn’t given pathetic lines to read in Star Wars and Thor movies, Portman gives the sort of performance that can really make a political film come to life – think Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln or Helen Mirren in The Queen. Portman’s performance here is easily on a par with those heavyweights. The rest of the cast is also solid, with nice performances by Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant and John Carroll Lynch, but it’s Portman’s show. And if it weren’t for a stacked year that already contains Emma Stone (La La Land) and Amy Adams (Arrival), Portman would be a lock already for an Academy Award.
Not in the running: Everyone else. Especially anyone in the cast of Suicide Squad.
Unfortunately, though, outside of the performances by the cast, this movie isn’t necessarily a great movie. With a less capable cast, it could even have become a bad movie. The filmmaker, Pablo Larrain, made the choice to make the film very disjointed, in a bid I suspect to reflect the confused state of mind that Jackie would have been in at the time. But the end result is that we see a lot of scenes that don’t necessarily lead anywhere, or tell us anything. When the scenes are good – the funeral, the assassination itself, even some of the arguments between Jackie and Bobby Kennedy – they really hit their mark, but outside of those scenes you get many more shots of Jackie doing things like packing up her belongings in the White House, taking medication, or seeking guidance from her priest.
It just ends up becoming something of a bore. I mentioned Lincoln earlier, and it suffers in the way that that movie suffered – the stories they are trying to tell don’t quite stretch far enough to reach the run time. They are stories that should be told in a more compacted way, but the filmmakers have felt the need to emulate Oliver Stone’s Nixon and present a more comprehensive look than we perhaps needed. It’s not that the filmmakers did a bad job with what they were working with, but there are better ways to present it. Jackie is a movie that is only just over an hour and a half in length, but when I left the theatre I’d have sworn that at least 2 hours had passed. And that’s not always the best sign.
Pictured: The best sign. Fact. #ReallyOldInternetJoke
That said, if you are an aficionado of American political history, or a fan of the Kennedys, this film may be worth your while. And Portman’s performance is certainly worth the price of admission all on it’s own.
3.6/5 – An average film that is elevated by the efforts of a stellar cast.
Don’t forget to check out the new series on this blog, Retro Reviews, as I look at films good and bad (mostly bad) from years gone by. Check out the first entry Demonwarp online now and stay tuned over the weekend for the next entry, featuring a rather famous British spy…..