TIFF 2016: Natalie Portman is Exceptional in Pablo Larraín's 'Jackie'
by Marco Cerritos
September 18, 2016
It's never a good time to lose anyone close to you and even worse when the whole world is watching. Every move is watched and scrutinized regardless of context and it's up to you to put your personal feelings aside and keep moving forward. The astounding new film Jackie focuses on one of the biggest icons of class and style in America's history, Jackie Kennedy, and as played by a never-better Natalie Portman we witness the private grief that is human but rarely seen in public. Jackie is the English-language debut of Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (of No, The Club and this year's Neruda) and as the story begins we are dropped right in the middle of the chaotic aftermath following JFK's assassination on November 22, 1963.
Jackie Kennedy is still in a daze wandering the empty halls of the White House and it hasn't even sunk in yet that her young children are unaware of their father's death. The raw intensity of grief takes a backseat to an anxious Lyndon B. Johnson waiting in the wings to be sworn into office proving that regardless of tragedy it's still politics as usual. Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in these early scenes with a quiet intensity and frustration, everything we need to know is shown on her face and not told through words. It's a refreshing show of trust from director Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim, something that forces the viewer to dig deep to understand this former First Lady's complex emotions.
The film also jumps between two seminal portraits in Kennedy's life, the first is a television special where she gives America a grand tour of the White House in happier times and the second is a magazine exclusive handed to a stunned reporter (played by Billy Crudup) a week after JFK's funeral. The transition in tone juxtaposes the narrative, and Portman's transition between glamorous and destructive is breathtaking to watch. It also shines a light on how the public expects certain things from their political figures. The complicated feelings of grief that accompany any loss are not allowed to be examined nationwide unless they serve the public's perception of who a person is.
The blunt transition in power between the Kennedys and incoming successive president Johnson, played by Richard E. Grant, makes for some of Jackie's strongest scenes as they show the First Lady emotionally and psychologically naked with nothing to lose. Once an icon of glamour and taste, Mrs. Kennedy throws herself into a new realm by planning JFK's funeral and even opening up to equally doomed brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (played by Peter Sarsgaard). The change in character signals an acceptance and harsh new reality for the wounded Jackie, something that she desperately seeks.
Pablo Larraín's Jackie is a complex and effective political portrait anchored by a towering performance from Natalie Portman. She is front-and-center for most of the film and the story simply doesn't work without her performing so exceptionally. The film was recently bought and scheduled for year-end release so there's no doubt in the studio's confidence, placing Portman at the head of the Oscar race. Most moviegoers will be floored with this unconventional biopic as it towers over the rest as one of the best films of the year.
Marco's TIFF Rating: A
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