Natalie Portman, as JF Kennedy’s widow, struggles to make a genuine connection with the viewer
23 January, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Natalie Portman in Jackie
Directed by Pablo Larrain
JACKIE is a film that purports to take us into the horrendous world of JF Kennedy’s widow in the immediate aftermath of his murder.
We have had many films on JFK, but this is the first that tells it from this viewpoint. It seems strange it has taken so long for directors focus on her – after all, she had to cradle her dying husband in her arms after he had been shot in the head. And it is quite a story to tell. Natalie Portman takes on the role of Jackie, and her experience is told through the devices of flashbacks, conjured up by a face-to-face interview with a magazine reporter (Billy Crudup).
An atmosphere is created by off-key cellos on the soundtrack, wintry scenes, muddy cemeteries and the clash between being seen to “do the right thing” in terms of the dignity of the office in the face of the simple fact that a human being has been killed in violent circumstances.
To have your husband murdered is one thing – to have to remain dignified and seemingly protect his legacy as well is almost too much to imagine, and this challenge is helped by Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy. He adds gravitas to scenes that need bolstering.
Perhaps it is a sign of the sexism within the film industry that we have had movies that have told the story of those events from just about every single other viewpoint you can imagine, but no major attempt to have Jackie Kennedy’s experience committed to celluloid.
We’ve had Oliver Stone’s JFK, about New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison as he tried to unravel whether there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll; there was Parkland, by Peter Landesman, which looked at the fateful day from the viewpoint of people who watched the presidential cavalcade and the doctors and nurses who had to receive the lifeless body of JFK. Then, In the Line of Fire used the assassination as the starting point for an action film set many years later.
But no one has focused on Jackie. While Portman does a fairly decent job, there is something too monochrome about her for the viewer to feel a genuine connection. Perhaps it’s the stilted accent, or the attempts to show a woman in the most awful of circumstances trying to act with dignity.
No matter – Jackie Kennedy’s story deserves to be told. Perhaps its release is timely: you cannot but help compare the sense of loss for a generation who hoped they’d have a president who could tackle civil rights, Vietnam and the Cold War, to the behaviour of the nasty, ignorant oddball about to take the reins this week.