Though the last two years in film have been rife with musician-based biopics, some of the most influential icons in the American zeitgeist are missing from this ensemble. Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim and director Pablo Larrain are changing the game with his heart-wrenching take on the assassination of J.F.K. and Jackie Kennedy’s days following the event.
Six years after Natalie Portman’s award-winning performance in “Black Swan,” she returns to the screen to yet again lose herself in a role that grips us so tight that we forget it’s Natalie Portman; instead, it’s an ethereal reincarnation as First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. From the stitch-by-stitch replica of her iconic wardrobe to the perfection of the delicate twang of her voice, we see the real Jackie Kennedy, and we feel the cold sweat of her grief in the four days between her husband’s assassination and his burial, in whatOppenheim refers to as “both her most vulnerable and her most graceful.”
The driving force behind the film is the overreaching dedication to portray reality in every instance possible. The recreation of Kennedy’s 1962 White House tour is an impeccable example of Larrain’s talent. Not only was the scene shot frame for frame as the original, but it was also filmed with the same type of cameras — with sections of the original tour interwoven throughout. At every opportunity, Larrain inserted original footage into this modern masterpiece.
The cinematography pulls us in too close for comfort with a looming score that both consoles and devastates as we ride the waves of Jackie’s grief, her poise, her determination. We are given the chance to see past Jackie as an icon and see her as a grieving wife, a heartbroken mother, and a force to be reckoned with as she fights to secure her family’s image and legacy.
“Jackie” is Larrain’s first English-language film, and it has set the bar incredibly high for the future of the biopic genre. The film reminds us of Jackie’s never-ending desire that we do not forget that for a “brief, shining moment,” they had an American Camelot that was lost far too soon.