Movie Review: Jackie
By Matthew Huntley
December 19, 2016
The film makes it a point to show that Jackie's sophisticated and affable image is something she had to work hard at upholding and that it was partly a front. During her filmed tours of the White House, when Jackie describes her restorations of certain rooms as a means to bring “life to a cold house,” she comes across as robotic, submissive and one-dimensional. But this is sharply different from the frank and brazen way she speaks to White during their interview and, later on, a priest (John Hurt), whom she seeks out for spiritual answers and guidance following her husband's death. The scenes with the priest are some of the film's best because the priest himself is so candid and doesn't merely placate Jackie or give her false comfort. Instead, he reminds her that God doesn't always do things that make sense and, no matter how much we don't want to hear it, to accept the things we cannot change. It's Jackie and the priest's shared moments that feel the rawest and true.
Overall, the film's themes may seem a bit on the obvious side, but that doesn't make them any less relevant. It does, however, make the film feel dry at times, with some of the reaction shots and dialogue seeming redundant, as when Jackie looks upon the newly appointed President Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) and First Lady (Beth Grant) with resentment, or the conversations she has with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and Jack Valenti (Max Casella) about JFK's funeral or her having to move out of the White House. The story harps on the same conflicts one too many times.
Nevertheless, the film is a showcase for the cast. Natalie Portman embodies the role of Jackie with utter conviction, which is not to say she simply does a good impression or looks the part (although she does), but that she makes this version of Jackie her own. She lends credence to the idea that biopics need not necessarily be about real historical figures so long as the actors playing the subjects invest enough weight and complexity into them. She's equally matched by John Hurt, who's so humble and genuine as the priest. He just might give the film its second Oscar nomination for acting, with Portman likely being the first.
One other notable performance comes from Caspar Phillipson as JFK. He looks most like his real-life counterpart, which helps for sure, but it's his restraint to overact or merely accent JFK's most memorable features that make him stand out. He's completely natural and there were times when I felt I watching the real JFK onscreen.
I'd be curious to know whether the real Jackie Kennedy would find Jackie to be a faithful representation or grossly inaccurate? If she saw herself the way Portman plays her, would she admit it? I believe Jackie is accurate to a degree, but when it comes to narratives about real people, accuracy isn't as important as drama, and this is effective drama. Oddly enough, it stems from what Jackie called “the great divide between what people believe and what I know to be real.”