Jackie ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Earlier this year I had the chance to attend the Chicago International Film Festival. While I was lucky enough to watch Damien Chazelle’s breathtaking La La Land (more on that in a day or two), there were two movies that I dreaded not getting a chance to watch: Neruda and Jackie. Both films directed by Chilean born Pablo Larraín, I’m now happily able to cross one of those films off my list. Boy, am I happy to say that I’ve finally seen Jackie.

Since watching the very first trailer, I was excited to see Jackie. Yet, that excitement never seemed to surpass the ever-present fear of Oscar bait. Were the story of Jackie Kennedy placed in the hands of an average director it would quickly plunge into the trenches of melodrama and cheese. Cookie cutter collages of famous historical images would litter the screen, rather than inciting any form of real tension or emotion. But, Jackie wasn’t in the hands of an average filmmaker, and while I have yet to see any of Larraín’s other films, I am aching to binge his entire filmography.

Jackie, taking place immediately after the infamous assassination of JFK, follows several timelines in tandem (think Inarritu’s Babel (2006) structurally) while never over saturating one story line with another. It expertly weaves themes of self and public perception with such a traumatic moment for not only Jackie, but the American people as a whole. Where I to quibble at anything, without going into specifics, a certain plot-line involving John Hurt seems to speak a bit too bluntly regarding certain themes in the film. Yet, even those moments are clouded in parable and hyperbole making them dramatically pleasing. All in all, the characters in Noah Oppenheimer's script are well rounded, the structure is flawless, and the the story needs to be told.

So often, good cinematography gets confused with flashy cinematography. I love a flashy movie as much as the next son of a gun, but I think Jackie is a tremendous example of reservation in cinematography. Shot primarily in medium and close ups, Larraín retains the truly breathtaking shots for the most dramatic moments for Jackie’s character. Without giving anything away, there is one shot with Jackie cleaning herself in front of a mirror that I haven’t been able to stop thinking of since I left the theater. While humble in its stylings, Jackie’s cinematography packs a punch.

Jackie’s editing is perhaps the strongest technical aspect of the film. It weaves the plot lines with elegance and grace, without making anything feel superfluous or fatty. While not completely traditional with the editing, Jackie trades traditionalism with a style more reminiscent of the french new wave. One sequence that has just fantastic editing involves the first lately listening to one of her late husband's records. It’s a tremendously moving scene that relies solely on performance and editing. Also, I elect not to go in depth, but the recreation of the fateful moment, nationalized by the footage of the zapruder film, is one of the best edited scenes of the year, if not the decade.

I’ve gotten the technical aspects of film making out of the way, that leaves me with one thing: the performances. But, I’m really only going to talk about one performance: Natalie Portman. So, what’s the consensus? Natalie Portman is so elegant, minute, and subtle with her performance that it outshines her Oscar winning performance in Black Swan (2010). The film often repeats similar scenes in which Jackie wavers on her decisions for JFK’s funeral, but it is through the strength of Portman’s performance and the subtle differences in her portrayal that the film keeps breathing. Portman says so much with just the slight quiver of an eyebrow or the tremble of a word. Similar to the cinematography, Portman’s performance is an exercise in reservation, saving the high points for exactly the right moments.

Jackie is not only a bio-pic, but a character study. It touches on themes of legacy, public image, grief, betrayal, love, and so much more. It’s a phenomenal movie that helps to round out the end of 2016 as a truly great time at the cinema.