Jackie begins at a fever pitch and never lets up; this is emphasized and embellished by Mica Levi’s haunting and relentless music score. But what Noah Oppenheim’s dazzling screenplay and Pablo Lorrain’s direction manage to do more than anything else is thrust us back in time and make us see—and think about—a series of historical events in a way we never have before.
Like so many others, I will never forget the day President Kennedy was shot or the long weekend that followed. I was 12 years old and every aspect of that terrible time is permanently imprinted in my consciousness. Yet I never thought about any of this from the First Lady’s perspective: the guilt she felt over not being able to protect her husband’s life, even after the first bullet struck him…the need to explain to her two young children that their father would not be coming home…the weighty decisions she had to (and chose to) make over how his funeral should be conducted, and so much more.
Oppenheim is a relative newcomer to screenwriting but a lifelong news junkie; while much of the dialogue is speculative it is clearly based on intensive research. Like Peter Morgan’s narratives about Queen Elizabeth, Jackie has the unmistakable ring of truth in every scene. Larrain even goes so far as to intercut sequences from Jackie Kennedy’s famous television tour of the White House with moments he has painstakingly recreated.
Natalie Portman’s face dominates much of the film and reflects the tangled emotions that must have swirled through Mrs. Kennedy’s mind over these tumultuous days: guilt, anger, confusion, duty, responsibility, and of course, loss…not just the loss of a husband or even a President but the loss of personal and public identity.
Normally I don’t like films that make excessive use of closeups but in this case the director and his cinematographer are serving a purpose: to try to penetrate her public and private “mask.” Credit is due to Portman, Larrain and his production team (cinematographer Stéphane Fontane, production designer Jean Rabasse, costume designer Madeline Fontaine) for capturing the externals so well and making us feel as if we’ve penetrated some of the internal workings of its protagonist at the same time.
Jackie is an altogether remarkable piece of work.