By Dashiel Bove
Illustration by Ashton Carless
Assoc. Design Editor
Up-and-coming Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín is not the conventional choice for a biopic about one of the most iconic First Ladies in American history. Despite his origins and small film portfolio, Jackie is not just an excellent portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, but is also example of near perfect camerawork and musical composition in film.
The movie follows the former First Lady, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman), and her 1963 interview by Time reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup). Jackie is a highly personal film, following Mrs. Kennedy through the day of her husband’s assassination and the planning and execution of his subsequent funeral. With this in mind, the majority of Jackie focuses on Mrs. Kennedy as she works through the horror of witnessing her own husband’s assassination and the indifference of the American political scene afterward.
What makes Jackie stand out is its perfect combination of unique camerawork and compelling performances. The opening shot, a close up of Jackie Kennedy cradling her husband’s lifeless body, pulls the viewers into Mrs. Kennedy’s story and understand just a fraction of what she felt like that cold November afternoon. This opening is followed by perhaps some of the best cinematography of 2016. The camerawork creates a sense of intimacy with Mrs. Kennedy, and complete isolation from everyone else. Conversations are shot either with extreme closeups that make the viewer feel like a participant in the conversations on screen, or are framed like portraits, pulling the audience back and creating an alienating sense of space. The camerawork is complimented by the drab colors and dull environment, with only the actors moving stiffly.
This superb cinematography is reinforced by Oscar-worthy performances from the entire cast. The two actors who stand out most are Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard. Portman perfectly portrays the strong woman that experienced multiple tragedies and still managed to pull through it all with a calm mind, intelligence, and sensitivity. Sarsgaard pulls an excellent turn as Robert Kennedy and infuses his performance with grief and pain that only someone who’s lost a brother can feel.
The beautiful camerawork and excellent performances don’t completely mask Jackie’s flaws. The story is told through out of order snippets, which can be off-putting when the movie cuts from angry conversations between two characters to scenes of tragic heartbreak with impactful visuals. Additionally, the music can sometimes come off as jarring. The soundtrack, while beautiful, often intrudes on scenes. With the majority of its composition being loud and discordant string instrumentation, that sometimes drowns out what’s happening on screen. There is also the problem of length; there’s a point about three quarters into where it feels like it’s been going on for hours. This becomes more exaggerated when you realize that Jackie feels like a two and half hour biopic when it’s actually only one hour and forty minutes.
These complaints, however, do not stop Jackie from being a powerful and heart wrenching movie about loss and what it means to be remembered. The film is an exceptional piece of filmmaking from a talented director with immense potential. Not only is Jackie worth a watch, but keep a lookout for any movie credited with Larraín’s direction.