Jackie SPOILER-FREE Review
When I first saw the trailers for Jackie, I could tell that Natalie Portman's performance was going to be fantastic, but I thought the movie itself was probably going to be kind of mediocre. It very much looked like an okay film with an amazing performance, and that's what I was expecting when I went to go see this movie. I wasn't anticipating an overly dynamic film, nor a complex or profound picture. Instead, I was simply there to see Portman's (most likely) Academy Award nominated performance. For the first half of the film, I was proven right. The film was kind of dull and moved at a very slow pace. But by the halfway mark, Jackie really turned itself around, becoming not only an incredibly competent film, but a rather engaging one as well-- all the while having a truly mesmerizing and captivating performance on Portman's part. Jackie really does work to transcend beyond being held captive to Portman's performance, and instead becomes it's own entity.
Jackie is the non-linearly told story of Jacqueline Kennedy, after witnessing the assassination of her husband, and the days after involving her mental recovery and acceptance of the change to her life; all while trying to preserve her husband's legacy in the wake of new powers taking over the White House.
First and foremost, Jackie is a testament to Natalie Portman's power as an actress. Sometimes she decides to just mail it in to get the paycheck (Thor), but when she wants to bring, she sure as hell can bring it! She plays such a multifaceted and dynamic character, bringing many different layers and complexities to the First Lady. This story really does focus solely on Jackie. Even when John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) is on screen, the camera's focus is Jackie. We are following her, and seeing through her eyes. And, in that sense, it never feels like a traditional biopic. Instead, it is a character study of a person who witnesses their husband die in front of them, except that husband also happens to be the President of the United States. We live through her stages of grief, as well as her moments of strength. But what was more fascinating to me was to see her obsession with preserving her husband's legacy. She doesn't want him to fade away into obscurity, and instead actively works to make sure that he will be remembered. It was a really interesting direction to go in, and it made for really compelling character moments. Everyone's focus will be on Portman's performance, but there are some really good supporting actor performances as well. Peter Sarsgaard's accent was in and out, but I thought he was ultimately really good as Bobby Kennedy. John Hurt was also excellent as a priest in a brief scene between him and Portman.
All the technical elements of this film were also spectacular. The movie was shot on Super 16mm, making for a vintage film that added to the realism and authenticity of the film. Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine constructed some beautiful and elaborate shots in this movie. There was some really perfect imagery in this movie that utilized its vintage feel to its maximum potential. It's very much a show don't tell kind of film, and that was realized mainly by Fontaine. The editing was some of the best I've seen this year. Not only was the way the film was pieced together fascinating, but the cuts within scenes were well realized and meaningful. The score is rather simple, but it's incredibly effective with its haunting themes. Pablo Larraín does a fantastic job directing, really working to make this movie feel as genuine as possible. So many elements of the Kennedy's lives were translated identically into this film with a lot of precision and care. All of these elements work together to make a great backdrop for Portman.
I do think the first half of this movie is kind of weak. It certainly takes its time to introduce everything and get the momentum going, and if it wasn't for Portman's performance, it would've been boring. Luckily, Portman was so engaging as Jackie that it kept my interest. The movie doesn't really pick up until the second half of the film, where there's a lot more energy to it. It's at that point that the film becomes a lot more dynamic and interesting, because that's when the character of Jackie becomes truly dynamic and interesting. For the first half of the film, she more or less plays the grieving wife, but as the film progresses, a lot more layers and dimensions are added to make her and the movie, in turn, more interesting. In retrospect, this mirroring of her character's development is fascinating, but ultimately the movie did need a lot more energy in the first half. But the laser-focus of the second half is what really makes this film great.
Overall, Jackie surprised me in being a far more competent and dynamic film than I had previously thought it would be. It didn't live in the shadow of Natalie Portman's award-worthy performance, but instead became its own thing. Portman is, in fact, incredible. I don't think this movie would've been the same if it wasn't for her capabilities as an actress. She perfectly inhabits the character, and nails all of Jacqueline Kennedy's subtleties and her accent. Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt also have really good supporting roles in the film. All the aesthetics and technical aspects of the movie are perfect, from the cinematography to the editing to the score to the direction. The movie is pretty slow in the beginning, but it does really pick up by the second half, developing into a really engaging film. Overall, Jackie is propelled by Natalie Portman's incredible performance, but surprised me in being able to break free from living vicariously off her, and becoming a really great film in of itself.
What do you think? Have you seen Jackie? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below.
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