While many will always know her as Jackie O., she was Jackie Kennedy during one of the most remembered events in United States history. “Jackie” is a snapshot of one of the most public and tumultuous times for a woman who doesn’t seem too keen on garnering the public’s eye if she doesn’t have a say in what’s being said about her. Natalie Portman gives an outstanding performance and really owns the role, but “Jackie” is one of those films where Portman’s portrayal is better than the film itself.
The film follows Jackie (Natalie Portman) in the events immediately following the assassination of her husband and former president, John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson). Her story is summed up here in one traumatic experience followed by a series of post-trauma. From the moment her husband is shot, to the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) as president, to the whispers, the funeral procession arrangements, and having to deal with everything behind the scenes while Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) assures her that everything will be done to her liking, Jackie is a part of it all.
The film shifts focus constantly but remains within a certain timeline, albeit none of which are chronological. A week after Kennedy’s death, Jackie sits down with a journalist (Billy Crudup) and is unapologetic about what he can and cannot write about her. They discuss Kennedy’s death and touch upon Jackie’s famous broadcast tour of the White House’s interior. The inclusion of the tour in the film is a bit oddly placed amid all the other happenings. The film is clearly trying to show us that Jackie tried to make her mark as the First Lady in the early days of her husband’s presidency, but it was her presence in the aftermath of the assassination that made the mark for her.
Natalie Portman’s performance is a strong one and really highlights her depth as an actress. Portraying Jackie Kennedy (now Onassis) is no easy feat and she does it supremely well. Often, Jackie’s struggles are internal, but when she gets to speak about what she’s been going through is when Portman truly shines, even nailing the raspiness of her character’s voice. The film is effective in the moments when her trauma shines through, but at the same time does struggle to fully flesh out her character and arguably diminishes her character by presenting her in a way where the people around her, with the exception of her friend Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), were always trying to coddle her.
Often, “Jackie” doesn’t linger long enough on any one thing and can drag on for long periods of time without any major plot development. The film gives us several layers to its lead character, but in trying to show off her strength, stamina, and poise in the wake of her husband’s death, it sometimes threatens to demean her unintentionally. Jackie wasn’t an overtly outgoing woman and in inputting the story with the journalist, the film makes it clear that she was a master at weaving the story to come across a certain way. One can’t help but wonder what Jackie herself would have thought of this film and what it says about her.
Director Pablo Larrain really has his work cut out for him in taking on someone as well-known as Jackie Kennedy. And there are moments when his directing really shines, but “Jackie” is like pieces of a puzzle of an incomplete puzzle. It struggles in its pacing and it flip flops back and forth between the past and present with little regard to expanding itself further. It’s Natalie Portman who saves the film from flat-lining completely and her performance is one that is far superior than the film itself.
"Jackie" struggles in its pacing. It's Natalie Portman that saves the film from flat-lining completely and her performance is one that is far superior than the film itself.