As great as it is, something is missing
Jackie (2016): Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband's historic legacy.
This is a tough film for me to critique. There's no doubt this is a great film: it's wonderfully acted, brilliantly written, masterfully edited, and has some cool costumes, set design, and a very different but awesome score peppering the whole thing. But.....there's something holding it back. Maybe it lies in the performance of Natalie Portman. Maybe it lies in the overall tone of the film. Maybe it does lie in the editing which, while great, was also very obvious. I don't know! As a result, I'm turning this into a flash review. I'm just going to spit out my thoughts and go down the rabbit hole that is reviewing this film and see where we come out. Ok? Well. You don't really have a choice in the matter, so come along now.
Let's focus on positives first. This film has a great cast that gives it their all. Obviously Portman is the centerpiece, (more on her later) but the film also features a strong supporting cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup as The Journalist, (though his identity is revealed in the film so I won't spoil) the late great John Hurt as a priest, (RIP) and John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant as LBJ/Lady Bird Johnson. I was particularly blown away by Gerwig, who shows off her acting chops in a role that is totally different than anything else I've seen her in. Man did she have a good 2016. Additionally, this film was told in a very unique way for a biopic. (Hence the caption) The film basically covers two weeks of Jackie's life around the assassination of JFK, and it (thanks to that great editing) jumps back and forth between basically four different events as the story progresses. I really enjoyed this non-chronological storytelling style, (I'm sure it has a name but I'm not smart enough to know it) and the seamless, but obvious, editing held it all together. Film editor Sebastián Sepúlveda also did that thing where he mixed real footage with film footage so you couldn't really tell if what you were watching was what actually happened versus what the film is telling you what happened, and I love to see that. Snowden could've taken a page out of this technique when recreating shots of Citizenfour, but I digress. There was also a GREAT set design, one certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination, as the film crew had to meticulously recreate a JFK-era White House as they re-enacted Jackie's Tour of the White House from 1962. On top of it all was a very eclectic and unique score from Mica Levi, who utilized a traditional orchestra to create an almost haunting score for this picture. While it stands no chance to win Best Score against La La Land, it was absolutely perfect for this film and reminded me why I love film scores.
But.....what's holding it back? What's preventing it from being right there with La La Land, Moonlight, Arrival, and 20th Century Women for what I believe to be the best films of 2016? I think it starts with Natalie Portman. Don't get me wrong: she's great in this, and may even net an Oscar for her performance due to the celebrity that she is playing, but I never once lost sight of the fact that I was watching Natalie Portman play Jackie. When you're watching a truly great biopic on a celebrity there's often a moment when the actor playing that character is absorbed and becomes a celebrity. Tom Hanks did it in Saving Mr. Banks. Leonardo DiCaprio did it in The Wolf of Wall Street. Jesse Eisenberg did it in The Social Network. But Natalie Portman just doesn't reach that point here. Maybe it's because I didn't really know Jackie Kennedy. (So perhaps my parents would have a different opinion of her performance) But then again I didn't know Jordan Belfort at all either (I didn't even know that was him at the end of the film introducing himself until like two weeks ago) yet DiCaprio still sucked me into that character. Now granted I'm comparing Portman's performance to arguably the best performance in film since Heath Ledger's Joker, but it doesn't change the fact that I never stopped seeing her, and you don't want that to be the case in your high profile biopic. Also, as I hinted to before, I thought that the editing was too obvious while not adding anything to the film. I looooooved the obvious editing in a film like Whiplash, but that's because it added something to the film. Here it felt like "Oh look at me look at how simply marvelous I am at my job" kind of editing. Again. Obvious for a reason, but obvious nonetheless.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just being too harsh on Jackie, but that may be because I saw the potential for greatness here. When you have a film centered around one of the most traumatic events of the 20th century, it is very easy to create drama and intrigue. And when you center your story around the First Lady instead of the American people or the president's perspective, you can create an entirely different and unique perspective surrounding these events. But while I do feel like the film kind of does this, I just think it could've done more. That's definitely a good complaint to have about a film, but if this review has taught you anything about how I look at things.....a complaint is still a complaint.
The Critique: Despite a brilliant performance from Natalie Portman, Jackie falls just short of immortality due to some overbearing moments.
The Recommendation: If you're a fan of JFK or Jackie Kennedy or the Kennedy's in general, this film is more than worth your time. Everyone else though? Might be kind of bored during this film.
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Oscar Talk: Given the amount of press it had going into the nominations and the fact that it only has 3 Oscar nominations to show for it, I think the Academy kind of agrees with me on Jackie. I think there is a very real possibility that this film comes out of Oscar night empty-handed. It's best shot is Best Actress, and even though I haven't seen a bunch of those performances yet, I can say that Emma Stone was definitely better than Portman. We shall see!
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