‘Jackie’ a biopic masterpiece
Charlie Kenney | Wednesday, February 8, 2017
A movie solely about the events leading up to and following John F. Kennedy’s assassination would be monotonous, unsurprising and probably rated NC-17. Shots of the limp body of the 46-year-old and the bloodstained 1961 Lincoln Continental he was attacked in would fill the run time. The element of surprise would be completely absent; almost every American knows that the 35th president didn’t finish his first term, no matter their education level. The only emotions that would really be present in theaters would be grief and shock. And that’s exactly why movies have been made about the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Kennedy’s life as a whole, rather than his death. The topic is too narrow, too melancholy and much too predictable.
The recently released film “Jackie,” however, has managed to transform the morose and predictable into the exciting and startling. The film shies away from the assassination itself and instead focuses on the more personal — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s (Natalie Portman) grief. In doing so, it adds suspense and almost completely loses its historicity. Textbooks cover the path Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet took to President Kennedy’s skull extensively, but they never describe his wife’s unrelenting dedication; she refused to take off her bloodstained dress, meticulously arranged his funeral and faced 10 times the amount of grief the nation did.
Unlike most biopics, the plot of “Jackie” isn’t linear. The entire film is based around an interview that takes place days after the funeral of President Kennedy between Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) and journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup). The 100 minutes of screen time alternates between the interview itself and flashbacks to events she endured during the preceding weeks. The multi-layered plot shows Kennedy at her most vulnerable and at her most poised. It’s able to capture nearly every emotion she feels over the events and tragedies that took place, from incertitude to agony to exasperation to indecisiveness to acceptance.
The unconventional plot structure isn’t what makes the film one of the greatest biopics of the past decade; Natalie Portman’s performance as the titular character earns “Jackie” that title. Portman perfects arguably the toughest task an actor or actress can be asked to tackle — to portray a real person. Kennedy had well-documented emotions, idiosyncrasies and personality traits. She isn’t a character that Portman can make her own, but rather one she needs to mimic, and that is exactly what she does. Portman not only looks strikingly like Kennedy, but also speaks with the same cross between a trans-Atlantic and Bostonian accent as Kennedy did. Her weeping strikes true and she walks with the same simultaneous timidity and confidence that can be seen in so many videos of Kennedy from those same days.
The film is not only spellbinding in the portrayal of its protagonist, but also in every other facet. Peter Saarsgard is a mirror image of President Kennedy. The film is cast with a subtle blur as if it were filmed in the ’60s. Every set, whether in Hollywood or on the real streets of D.C. or Dallas, is indiscernible from the actual setting. Every little detail — down to the iconic pink Coco Chanel knock-off coat she wore and the blood that later stained it — was perfected.
The picture certainly deserves all the praise it has received. Portman deserves the Oscar nomination she’s been appointed, and the film itself deserves the 100 minutes it demands on the silver screen. Aside from all the accolades and all the admiration it has received, however, the truly remarkable aspect of this film is the timing of its release. In a time where the presidency is mocked and the country divided, it’s a firm reminder that there once was a “Camelot” where the presidency was respected, a country was united for one brief moment and streets were filled to the brim to watch a casket go by, not for reasons that were political, but for reasons that were human.