Jackie (2017) : A dark & Intimate Portrayal of Camelot
Movie Review by Vineetha Saikumar (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy during the days immediately following JFK’s assassination makes you admire the former First Lady’s strength, grit and her will to ensure that her husband’s funeral was what it deserved to be.
Before watching the film, I made sure I watched a few documentaries of the former First Lady, especially the White house tour documentary, and I found Portman’s portrayal of Jackie fitting. Jackie is probably one of Natalie Portman’s best performances – a strong portrayal of a character who did not lead a glum life, very unlike her portrayal of Nina Sayers in the Black Swan, for which she won the Oscar. She gets everything right; from the breathy voice and the Kennedy poise to the mid-Atlantic accent and the strange but strong emotions.
“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot….There’ll never be another Camelot again…” – Jackie Kennedy in an interview with Theodore H. White for the LIFE magazine, referring to her late husband’s presidency as Camelot.
Being a fictitious account of the first few days following JFK’s death, Chilean director Pablo Larrain had to recreate the experiences of Jackie. He shows her journey through the decisions that she took about her husband’s funeral while fighting the vicious objectives of politics, government officials, media and the Kennedy family.
Larrain was insistent on working with Natalie Portman because he knew what she would bring to the table. This explains why Larrain had the screenwriter (Noah Openheim) get rid of all the scenes in the screenplay without Jackie in it. His reason for framing the interview scenes is to expose the characters as and when their dialogues are delivered, without having any over-the-shoulder shots. That way, the characters look straight into the camera as though they are talking to the audience.
Noah Openheim’s screenplay begins with the interview of Jackie with an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup), a week after the assassination. Jackie sternly but politely makes it clear that the article will be her version of the events, and only hers. The film moves back and forth between the interview and the devastating days on and after JFK’s assassination.
During the film, clips from Jackie’s tour of the White House are played. The entire sequence of the White house tour was based on the 1962 TV documentary “A Tour of the White House with Mrs John F Kennedy”; the fact that it fits in seamlessly is the work of production designer Jean Rabasse. According to him, there is one particular instance in the film that involved a significant amount of research on the architecture and design of the White House. The furniture and artifacts were carefully selected based on the results of the long research process.
Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography is exemplary and takes you back to the sixties with its grainy footage shot on 16mm film at a ratio of 1.66:1 frame. He also shows close-ups of Portman, ensuring that her emotions are in sync with his framing decisions. Fontaine follows the character through her every action and through every expression of emotion. When Jackie aimlessly wanders around the corridors and rooms of the White House, you can feel her grief and that she is in a state of shock. From the blood stained skirts to stockings and the eerie images from the shooting, the film’s visuals are all still vivid in my mind.
Although Natalie Portman steals the show, the roles of Bobby Kennedy (played by Peter Sarsgaard) and the unnamed journalist (played by Billy Crudup) convincingly support her. The music of Mica Levi transports us to the dreaded time of the assassination and puts the audience in Jackie’s shoes. It allows them to empathize with the characters around whom the story revolves. For a person who had followed the news of the assassination back then, this film is bound to bring back the sad moments that people around the world had witnessed.
Larrain hits all the right spots in the audience’s psyche with the direction of the film, to show what the characters are made of, while Fontaine’s frames brings the characters closer to the audience. Overall, the film makes the audience feel like intruders of Jackie’s personal space immediately and after the assassination of her late husband.