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This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt

Director: Pablo Larraín

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for an Alarming Recreation

Release Date: December 2, 2016 (Limited)

The strongest biopics often take the most intimate approaches, and it does not get much more intimate than Jackie. In terms of chronology, cinematography, music, dialogue, and everything else, Pablo Larraín’s portrait of the iconic Mrs. Kennedy is razor sharp in focus. The opening shot, and essentially every shot thereafter, is a tight close-up of Natalie Portman as the First Lady. She is told, in the wake of her husband’s assassination, “the world has gone mad.” But this has been so ever since she has taken residence in the White House. The relentless gaze she endures in such an existence makes it so.

Jackie is constructed around four key relationships. The framing device is an interview conducted by a persistent, but plainly frustrated Billy Crudup (supposedly playing historian Theodore H. White, but credited only as “The Journalist”). Jackie welcomes him into her home, but insists that he is prohibited from printing basically everything she reveals to himHe seeks truth, whereas she only offers stories. Yet, her film is filled with details, and in the wake of tragedy, she latches onto them for some semblance of survival.

Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) is in full-on family mode, as he attempts to anchor his sister-in-law back to reality. Does our knowledge of the tragic fate that awaits him suggest that her buzzing, restless psyche is the better response to all this madness? Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) is a constant, near-silent presence, practically a friendly neighborhood specter propping up Jackie’s decorum and fabulousness. And then there is a priest (John Hurt), who only offers answers wrapped in ambiguity. (Or is it the other way around?)

The teams on sound and design assemble it all to give you the front-row seat that is almost too disturbing to bear. Indeed, its boldness in key moments may in fact be too much for some audiences to handle. Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine understands that the medium is the message. His Super 16 photography is a mix of grainy distortion/clarity and that old soap opera-style intimacy. Mica Levi’s avant-garde score is unnerving, yet somehow comforting, and therefore unnerving to think that such a tragedy could ever be comforting. A constant string phrase sounds like the THX theme being drained of life. Like all of Jackie, it is indelible.

Jackie is Recommended If You LikeThe Tree of LifeUnder the SkinBlack Swan

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Bloodstains That Are Hard to Wash Off

 

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