Review: Jackie (TIFF 2016)

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

PLOT: The aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, as shown through the eyes of Jackie (Natalie Portman), as she tries to organize her husband’s burial and come-to-terms with her new reality as the widow of a president.

REVIEW: Pablo Larrain’s JACKIE wound-up making a huge splash here at TIFF, with the deep-pocketed Fox Searchlight shelling out millions and guaranteeing a December run in order to qualify for the Oscars. Certainly, this prestige-level drama seems primed to secure Natalie Portman a nomination with her in literally every scene of the film as Jackie Kennedy, putting a human face on this larger-than-life person most of us only know from the history books.

It’s interesting that of all the movies made about the JFK assassination, none has ever really devoted a considerable amount of time to Jackie’s trauma after the shooting. The only I can remember is a quick scene of Jackie weeping in her blood-stained pink blouse in THE BUTLER. Here, the film is structured as her remembrances during the Hyannis Port LIFE Magazine interview a week after the assassination, by which time Jack was buried and Jackie and the kids had already vacated the White House to make way for LBJ.

Unusual for a biopic in that it takes a highly elliptical approach, JACKIE will no doubt put Chilean director Larrain high-up on the list of A-level prestige directors. That said, most of the movie’s praise will deservedly go to Portman, who’s uncanny as the titular character. Totally embodying Jackie’s famous poise and her debutante Southampton speech pattern, she evokes the woman’s famous wit, style and grace, which made her one of the most iconic women of the twentieth century. No real time is spent depicting the marriage – that’s a tale for another film. Rather, this depicts her struggle to cope with the assassination, giving us a truly personal perspective that’s missed in movies that focus on the assassination itself or the conspiracy theories surrounding it.

Portman is absolutely fascinating to watch here, disappearing thoroughly into the role in a way she hasn’t since BLACK SWAN (whose director – Darren Aronofsky – is listed as a producer). From her chain-smoking in Jack’s office listening to the soundtrack to CAMELOT (which held a special significance to the family as the Kennedy White House was often dubbed with that title), or fighting Jack Valenti and LBJ’s security concerns about the funeral, she’s magnetic. Peter Sarsgaard also has a notably good part as Robert Kennedy, as he himself struggles with his brother’s death but finds himself at odds with the new LBJ White House.

Technically impeccable, some of the choices are unconventional, such as having the actor briefly playing JFK be dubbed by historical recordings of the real man, but they mostly work. The atypical score by Mica Levy (aka UNDER THE SKIN’s Micachu) is especially notable, presenting several really excellent themes – making one wonder why she doesn’t score more films.

Given its quality and Portman’s amazing performance, it’s a given JACKIE will be talked about a lot towards the end of the year so expect this to be a big part of the Oscar conversation. Certainly, Portman seems a likely Best Actress nominee and possible winner, and maybe even a front-runner at this point.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.