Film Review: ‘Jackie’ Commands the Screen With Natalie Portman Heading the Charge

jackie-posterA biopic that breaks the barriers and conventions of the genre, Pablo Larrain‘s “Jackie” layers itself as a deeply felt drama masquerading as a new form horror venture. Exulting an adept and dexterous performance from Natalie Portman, “Jackie” transcends the ideas and imagery of the former first lady, and thrusts her into the spotlight of tragedy. Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim paints a portrait of a broken woman, searching for the legacy crown to bestow upon her fallen husband. Dour and overtly chilly, “Jackie” almost feels like a woman you’re in love with but constantly keeps pushing you away saying, “I’m too damaged and terrible to love.” Which could be its biggest misstep or greatest achievement.

Commanding the screen, Portman manages to top her Oscar-winning performance in “Black Swan” in the most profound manner. For every one of her co-stars she shares the screen with, you are fixated and glued to her every move. She drowns inside of Jackie Kennedy, capturing her elegance and sadly misguided, yet compassionate, disposition following the events of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Portman allows the viewer to see the inner corridors of power, but also the incisive glimpse of American history. This is no mere imitation, it’s an embodiment and one of the year’s finest.

jackie_imagePeter Sarsgaard breaks down the wall of perfection that has been the shroud of Bobby Kennedy and makes him a palpable being. The audience, well aware of the future events to follow, manages to only assist Sarsgaard in delivering an irrefutable portrayal that stands as his best work since “Shattered Glass.”

As the journalist that interviews Jackie Kennedy days after the assassination, Billy Crudup is a sharp and fiery presence, only adding to the despicable truth that he’s gone virtually unnoticed by awards groups in his excellent career. As the beautifully warm Nancy Tuckerman, Greta Gerwig offers a balance and much needed affection to the film’s cold disposition.

Screenwriter Oppenheim, former producer of “The Today Show,” pens the life of a massed and virtually unraveling woman in history. Teamed with Larrain’s heavy and sturdy direction, the two transport the audience to a dark, melancholy time. It’s a time of uncertainty, where politicians thirst for power, and the country is overcome with grief. From the pale hue set forth by Stéphane Fontaine, whose work on “Rust and Bone” gave the world a glimpse into his strengths, “Jackie’s” bleak and sullen aura can have different effects on its audience members. Some will embrace its extraneous procedures and its dreary narrative storytelling. Others will find it fresh and engaging. For someone who loves to bits “Requiem for a Dream,” Larrain’s film kept me at an arm’s distance. It should also be said: for a 95-minute film, it felt longer.

“Jackie” satisfies, all in its construction, narration, and vividly rich performances. Mica Levi’s score is downright frightening, hawking back to Jonny Greenwood’s works on “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master.” It’s emotionally resonate, intense and relentless in its grim tale of legacy. It glamorizes nothing of the Kennedy life, all leading to an uncompromising finale. Harsh but real, “Jackie” reinvents the standard biopic genre, and breathes new life.

“Jackie” is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures and is scheduled to be released on Dec. 2.

GRADE: (★★★)