“I didn’t want to become famous, I just became a Kennedy.”
This is one of ultimately a series of quotes that make up the script for Jackie, a historical drama that tells the story of Jackie Kennedy and the depression she endured during the first few days after her husband, President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “Isn’t every movie technically a series of quotes?” The answer would be yes. However, what I mean is that since the focal point of the movie is centered around the Life Magazine interview Jackie Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) gives to a journalist (played by Billy Crudup), the majority of the script is taken literally from the conversation between the two, which is used for his actual piece. I wanted to love this movie so bad, but sadly, I found myself ready to leave early in a relatively short movie (I’d say approximately 80 minutes into a short 100 minute film).
I’ll even go a step further – I am kind of confused and borderline offended that such a big-time project revolving around such a legendary person in history was given to clearly unqualified filmmakers (at least to this point in their careers). Pablo Larrain, who is credited by some as one of the better filmmakers from Chile, left a lot of meat on the bone when it comes to bringing this sad story to life.
I wanted to see more from the streets of Dallas right after the assassination. I wanted to be dropped in the middle of the chaos that ensued from the Secret Service rushing to protect Jackie and Lyndon Johnson in the immediate minutes and hours after Kennedy’s murder. I was looking forward to see how everything played out in the hospital afterwards, and to actually observe one of the saddest moments in American history – a mourning First Lady swapping wedding bans with the corpse of her murdered president and husband as it has been historically reported.
Instead, I felt like I got several scenes that felt rushed, transitions that seemed haphazard, and flashbacks that, at times, felt incomplete. Larrain turned a hectic period of approximately 96 hours in American history into a boring hour and forty minutes of film. I admit that I am not familiar with other works by Larrain, but I think he fell significantly short at the golden chance to turn Jackie into his masterpiece.
Conversely, I did find two positives from this movie. The cinematographer did a good job at capturing the darkness and depression in Jackie’s heart. The close camera shots of Jackie’s face and mannerisms throughout the film really allowed the viewer to share a broken heart with the former First Lady. That specific technique in the cinematography created a natural sense of sympathy between she and the audience and was utilized very well.
The other bright spot, and without question the brightest of all, was the brilliant portrayal of Jackie Kennedy by Natalie Portman. Portman was one of the main reasons I was so excited for this film, and she did not disappoint. At times, you forget you’re not actually watching Jackie Kennedy. Aside from physically looking identical to Kennedy, Portman was spellbinding in the way she unlocked the unknown dark heart that the title character had during this time in her life.
Obviously, it was impossible to see this back in 1963 on television since 60s television rarely gave the viewer the privilege of seeing political and social figures in their true, purest form like our current era of social media and 24-hour news does today. Despite the shortcomings in the filmmaking, this may have been the role Natalie Portman was born to play.
Portman is almost guaranteed to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, which is absolutely deserved. Mica Levi, the composer of the musical score for the film, is getting buzz as well. Contrary to the Portman’s acclamation, Levi’s is head-scratching. Her score is so dark and haunting that it almost doesn’t match the movie – not to mention it’s super repetitive, which consequently became super annoying. I get that the movie is about the dark side of Kennedy, but it felt out of place to me. Luckily for Levi, the Academy may disagree.
By no means am I any kind of historian. Nonetheless, I do appreciate history. I’d be curious to hear what a political historian has to say about this picture. It appeared to be historically accurate for the most part, but the movie itself still felt flawed.
Noah Oppenheim, the writer and one of the producers of the movie, has more of a television-producing background than big-screen feature films. No offense to Noah, but it clearly showed. Jackie Kennedy was beloved, but this film was mediocre. She deserves better. To be fair, based on what I have read from others, I may be in the minority with my opinion here to an extent. But I just feel like people spent money to see this movie in theaters, when they could have (and probably should have) been able to watch it in the comfort of their own homes on an HBO or Netflix.
If you really are interested in the story of Jackie Kennedy during and after the events of the JFK assassination, I would highly recommend the documentary The Day Kennedy Died, which originally aired on the Smithsonian Channel in 2013.
MATTER RATING: 5/10
OSCAR RATING: 5/10 (solely due to Natalie Portman’s classic performance and Mica Levi’s possible chance to get a nomination for her musical score)
BY: CHRIS GUEST