Best of 2016 Review: Jackie
From Chilean director Pablo Larraín, comes yet another fascinating biographical tale to spawn from this year's Academy Awards in 2016's Jackie. A historical portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy teeming with fantastic performances and a silent, haunting intensity, Jackie caught my eye with simply its central character. Tormented and riddled with immense guilt following her husband's untimely death, Natalie Portman led the show to a tremendous final product as Jackie quickly became one of my favorite films of the year.
First Lady Jackie Kennedy was famous even before the grisly assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. An icon of fashion, dignity, and poise, she was a staple of American vanity. Her legacy, however, was not truly defined until her darkest fears were realized. As the story finds Mrs. Kennedy on the onset of her emotional breakdown, following the death of her husband and the country's leader, her alluring vanity begins to fade to black, and the truth of her marriage begins to unspool. Struggling to maintain not only her husband's legacy, but also the public eye of her and her family, Jackie Kennedy must blur the line between what is performance and what is real to regain control.
Much like many biographical films nowadays, I'm always curious to see not only films based on people that I've heard of, but also people that I never really knew anything about. With films like 2015's Steve Jobs and 2010's The Social Network presenting captivating and revealing stories of technological icons we all know, films like 2013's 12 Years a Slave and 2014's The Imitation Game (among many others) have displayed riveting and emotional stories of figures I had little clue of before seeing the film. With last year's Jackie, I was given a glimpse into one figure I only had a one-dimensional depiction of. As the film breathed life into not only the tragedy of John F. Kennedy's death, but more importantly the struggle and sacrifice of his wife, Jackie, I gathered a more refined image of an icon whose legacy fluttered with every word that came out of her mouth.
With that in mind, one of the most compelling elements of Jackie had to be its emotional intensity. With Natalie Portman delivering one of her best performances in a while, the actress was able to jump into the role of Jackie Kennedy like it was a second skin. With her performance elevating from simple caricature to embodying every subtle and flawed emotion of the First Lady, Portman's emotionally-fueled and hypnotic method of expression laid the intense groundwork for the entire film. With the film retaining a dynamically gloomy tone throughout, it focused less on the actual events playing out, and more on each character's emotional state, from Mrs. Kennedy's sudden snap from reason and sanity to JFK's brother, Robert's (Peter Sarsgaard) silent struggle to maintain order of it all.
Like I mentioned before, one of the most exciting things I can appreciate from any good biopic is the audacity to tell stories people wouldn't expect. While Jackie Kennedy's legacy might very well be common knowledge to many people, I only knew her as simply John F. Kennedy's pioneering wife. The film exploring not simply her legacy as an icon of fashion and poise, but also her emotional connection with the American public, the story was able to look beyond just what made her iconic, and peek inside the psyche of a grieving wife. Going into this film, I knew that I wasn't going to get a JFK film with his wife idling in the background, but rather a portrait of a woman who stood on a high stool, but was altogether human.
While the film may have used its real-life characters to sometimes blur the truth between what really happened and what was fiction, one thing that remained purely authentic -- and fantastically captivating -- was the film's setting. While the Washington, D.C. of the 1960s may have undergone some major changes leading up to today's politically-charged landscape, the film painted such a fascinating yet gentle atmosphere of turmoil and grief, it was easy to lose yourself in the environment. Watching this film in D.C. just a week ago, I felt somewhat connected to the landscape, as well as the characters that spawned from it. With that, when scenes unfolded like JFK's funeral at the Arlington Cemetery, my fresh memories of standing just that day where Jackie Kennedy and many others had once stood, offered a unique experience watching the film.
Overall, while I may not have known much about Jackie Kennedy going in, Jackie presented a breath-taking and riveting journey into the legacy and loss of one of America's most iconic women. With its eerie and unsettling tone and music only elevating its grounded exploration of emotion and humanity to greater heights, Jackie ended up being a surprisingly intense and phenomenal drama with a groundbreaking performance from Natalie Portman. Because of that, it's a must-see from 2016 for not only the history buffs out there, but any moviegoer seeking a beautiful biopic with a razor-sharp edge.
I gave Jackie an 8 out of 10 for its emotional dive into the pains of grief and legacy, its haunting musical score that could bring anyone to the edge of their seat, and its captivating performance from an actress who without a doubt deserved an Oscar this year.
I thought Jackie was a fascinating portrayal of human emotion, never once giving way to the grand atmosphere or implications surrounding it. Another film I found surprisingly similar in more ways than one was this month's Logan. Be sure to come back this weekend to catch my review of the sensational Wolverine sequel! Remember to follow my blog and social media for more updates on future posts.