Quick Flick: Jackie
Pablo Larrain's account of Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy is dominated by a stunning central performance from Natalie Portman. Her gradual meltdown is devastating to witness, with Portman perfectly capturing the torment and distress that her real-life counterpart must have experienced. Such is the strength of her performance that it almost (but not quite) masks the disappointingly formulaic structure adopted by director Larrain, with a number of stale scenes that somewhat distract from the power of Portman's role.
Since the film is built around Portman's character, it is fair to judge a substantial amount of the film on her performance alone. Portman proves perfect for the role, dominating every scene as she suffers through the turmoil of her husband's death, creating an incredibly intimate portrait of a struggling widow. Her viciously unpredictable behaviour as she moves between hopeless depression and outbursts of stubborn anger, is disturbingly realistic and makes for gripping viewing. Although Portman is front and center throughout, supporting roles from Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, who resiliently supports Jackie throughout, are both well played.
It is therefore a shame to see the film opt for a somewhat predictable style. In particular, the story arc is structured around an interview between Jackie and a reporter, played by Billy Crudup in a purposefully irritating fashion. These scenes feel unnecessary and too detached from the rest of the film, spelling out the exact emotions of Portman's character as if Larrain was worried her story wouldn't have been clear enough otherwise. There is also some sense that Larrain is attempting to tell two conflicting stories. On one hand, we see the destructive nature of Jackie's breakdown and her complete loss of emotional stability. But the film also appears to be emphasising the semi-mythical view of the former first-lady, who was a significant cultural icon during the 60's. Larrain never quite seems to decide between an intimate or more detached approach, resulting in a somewhat dissatisfying outcome.
Such is the power of Portman's performance that it is worth seeing Jackie just for her role. Besides that, Larrain's film, though executed with poise and composure, is a little too indecisive and unmemorable to be lauded with as much praise as it has been.