Thursday, 26 January 2017

Review: Jackie

Year: 2016
Director: Pablo Larraín
Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E Grant

Synopsis is here:

Everything is a tad oppressive in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. It’s all a little bit constricting. Mica Levi shrieking strings from her Under the Skin score, rear their head once more in new arrangements. The aspect ratio is smaller, tighter than what we are used to. Natalie Portman, who features in nearly every shot gives a deliberate and affected performance. One that peaks on near consistent anxiety.
If separated in some way, it probably wouldn’t have been all that effective. Of course, the point of Jackie is to bring them together in such a way, that everything bears down on the viewer, as it would its titular character. This film about the days Jackie Kennedy spent between the assassination of her husband; President Kennedy and his burial, often seems less like a biopic or insight into grief, and more like an essay of unwanted fame and survivor’s guilt. JFK is only often witnessed in brief glimpses (we even see the infamous moment in grisly detail), yet his presence looms large. Such is the way of Larraín as a formalist. Nearly every aspect of the film seems to highlight how the cloud of this man’s death weighs down heavily on his now widow.

Jackie boils throughout with a quiet intensity. Despite its delicate pacing, there’s a restlessness that burns through every scene. When a man like Kennedy dies, how do you find time to mourn? Usually, when someone dies, those close them are often consumed in the mundanity of grief. Often there’s a privacy to proceedings.  Larraín’s film considers the idea that Jackie, known during Kennedy’s presidency for her wish for privacy and image control, is torn between her own private grief and the desire in to ensure that JFK’s legacy is preserved.

We don’t just see this in the technical aspects, like where Stéphane Fontaine’s camera does all it can to isolate Portman’s Jackie any opportunity it can by either crashing it’s subject with oppressive close-ups or pushing her out into wide empty spaces. We also find it in Portman’s wonderfully conflicted performance. The forced affliction in her voice and wide-eyed apprehension would feel out of place in the hands of a lesser director. Larraín’s control of the film’s form creates a perfect fold for Portman’s anxious performance. During these final days, Jackie wanders the near endless rooms and halls of The White House, like a lost spectre. Through Jackie’s conversations with Kennedy’s remorseful brother Rob (the never bad Peter Sarsgaard), we find a woman who's not only violently displaced by tragic events, but one who has never felt she was a piece of the grand puzzle. 

Despite this, there’s no backing down. The conversations we witness in this film may or may not have happened. That’s not the point. Much like the zany Miles Davis biopic Mile’s Ahead of last year, Jackie this isn’t really about an accurate “truth”. It’s about a heightened emotional one. Jackie never panders, but it certainly does give reasons to ponder. At a time when our political spheres are losing their heads, Jackie coincidently appears at a time when many are rummaging through the dying ambers of a certain kind progressive idealism. It’s fascinating to watch the Chilean director Larraín, explore the opening cracks of where America felt these ideals first began to fray. With Jackie, the filmmaker installs a brittle and enduring resolve that quietly emerges from an individual who helps to cope with a nation's grief with a defiant poise and a steely grace.