By Patrick Murray
President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania, and the rest of the Trump family are often put at the sharp end of harsh criticism. There is no doubt that they are a controversial First Family, and they, especially the President, have said and done some questionable things before and since Inauguration Day. That said, is there a time when criticism and speculation become cruel nitpicking and mere disrespect? Trump and his family may be unorthodox and worrying at times, but they are still occupying the highest position an American family can obtain, a position that is a part of a much larger legacy of leadership and hope. Despite what any American may say, the office of the President, as a whole, deserves a certain level of respect. Further, the President and his family must reciprocate that respect. Jackie does a solemn yet incredible job of reminding us of this.
The Fox Searchlight film, directed by Pablo Lorrain and written by Noah Oppenheim, chronicles the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy and the aftermath in the following weeks through the eyes of Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman). It jumps between the events that occurred during and after, as well as her private conversations and conflicts with a journalist (Billy Crudup), her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), her friend and White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), and a very patient and wise priest (John Hurt). The main focus of the film is the emotional impact that the tragedy had on Mrs. Kennedy. The loss of her husband tears down her foundations, and she must deal with the fallout; she must tell her very young children what happened, business must go on as usual (to an extent), she must leave the White House, and the press is at her heels marking her every statement and decision.
Jackie shows strength in nearly every respect. It drags at times, but this is mainly due to the fact that it gives an overwhelming feeling of mournful hopelessness throughout, until the last ten minutes or so. That said, each scene feels vital to the whole of the film. The actors are easily its strongest aspect, and their work cannot receive enough praise, especially that of Natalie Portman. She rigorously prepared for this role; her dialect, emotional depth, and even posture are all spot-on. She most definitely earned the Oscar nomination she received for her performance.
Luckily for viewers, her role in this film is not the only one that is knocked out of the park. Billy Crudup does wonderfully as the journalist who interviews Mrs. Kennedy, and his scenes with Portman are some of the strongest – they break the continuous stress of the film perfectly. Jackie’s conversations with the journalist are brutally honest, uncomfortably humorous at times, and more than adequate in giving the audience a glimpse into her grieving and understandably cynical mindset. A great example of all three of those aspects is contained in a scene in which Jackie says to him, “You should prepare yourself, this article will bring you a great deal of attention.” When the journalist asks for advice, Jackie responds coolly and bitterly, “Don’t marry the president.” Sarsgaard also has great chemistry with Portman, and Robert Kennedy’s conflicts with his widowed sister-in-law are put on painful display in this film. He does a wonderful job at adding tension and grief to each scene he shares with Portman, especially toward the end when a large rift regarding safety and lost legacy grows between them. Finally, the scenes with the priest feel a bit cliché at times, but they are possibly the most important, for it is in them that we see Portman truly shine in character. Through her sometimes scornful attitude, existential questions, and desperate fear of the future for herself and her children, we truly get realistic insight into how Jackie Kennedy felt through Portman’s performance.
Besides the undeniable acting prowess it contains, Jackie also makes itself known through its cinematography. The camera angles used in the film are amazing, mainly because most of the time they are very up close and personal with the characters during the tenser scenes. The score and colors of the film match the tone perfectly. The orchestral music beautifully rises and falls, reflecting the ebbing and flowing emotions that accompany loss. Further, there is plenty of color contained in Jackie, but it is more subdued than in other biopics; it feels like a splash of gray was added to the whole film in order to accompany its tragic aspects, and that works heavily in its favor. The peak of this use of color can be seen in the funeral scene of the film, in which many men and women can be seen praying around President Kennedy’s casket, with the Kennedy family in the forefront. Many are obviously wearing black in the scene, but the colors that are contained within seem just as dark. This creates a beautifully dark and depressing tone to the film.
Jackie gets a solid A grade. Through the titanic skill of its actors, stunning cinematography, and tense scenes throughout, the film does an amazing job of showing Americans what national tragedy can do to those involved on a deeply personal level. In addition, Jackie reminds us all that we are stronger together than divided. In other words, it is a phenomenal character study that shows Americans that awful situations are capable of bringing us all together when we want to fall apart.
Final Score: A
Patrick Murray is a third-year English major who serves as co-Editor in Chief of Folio and loves to write short fiction in his free time.