Friday, December 2, 2016

Movie Review: JACKIE

Jackie is a portrait of Jaqueline Kennedy in the period immediately after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The film is directed by Pablo LarraĆ­n and stars Natalie Portman in the titular role. The film also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and John Hurt. I will confess, at the outset, that I’m not terribly well versed the real history of this period and I can’t speak to Jackie’s accuracy. That said, this is a beautiful and touching film that is absolutely one of the best singular performances I’ve seen in a while.

With respect to the positives, I don’t want to bury the lead: Natalie Portman is absolutely brilliant in this film. As I watched the film I honestly saw one of my favorite actresses completely vanish and I only saw this mourning First Lady dealing with an impossible situation. She is vocally interesting (and very much like recordings of the actual Jackie Kennedy) and does so many subtle things with her face and gait that you might not notice but all contribute to making this feel like the real Jackie Kennedy on screen. She is the center of this film and carries it on her back every moment she is on screen. She is strong, she is vulnerable, she is simply brilliant. It is honestly one of the best performances I’ve seen in a while and Portman really gives her magnum opus performance in Black Swan a run for its money.

On top of the brilliant performance by Portman, this film, as a production, is stunning. The way the settings, props, costumes, etc. look are incredibly bespoke and transport you back to 1963 in a tangible way and made this feel all the more like we are a fly on the wall to the actual events occurring. You believed you were in the residence at the White House, at Kennedy’s funeral, and at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. I felt like I was there for it all and it was a wonderful experience. To add to the production in an extremely clever way, the film drops in real archival footage of these events in spots. It does this so seamlessly that it blurs the line between the actors and reality. Usually when films do this is sticks out like a sore thumb. In this case, it highlighted the brilliant work they did to painstakingly recreate these real life moments. It was never jarring and genuinely made this a better, more beautiful film. The film also brilliantly uses colors (like pink, red, and black) that powerfully impact the eyes of the audience and adds to the beauty of the film even more.

The last thing I want to point out in the positives is how well written this film is. Noah Oppenheim wrote this film (who had previously only written two young adult adaptations, The Maze Runner and Allegiant) and really did a great job. This film is extremely dialogue driven and involves a lot of flashbacks. The fact that, somehow, that all works is incredible. The script felt somehow both real and manicured. It really just worked from start to finish and made this movie what it was.

Jackie is great, but it is not a masterpiece, nor is it perfect. I think both Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), in his limited scenes, were incredibly miscast and their performers did those castings no favors. Sarsgaard feels so unnatural in a fairly major role in the film and I saw no Robert Kennedy in that character. It was frequently frustrated me to have him in the story as much as he was and did hurt my overall experience.

In addition to those problems, I also found the film to have an audio balance problem. It is generally pretty quiet and has a couple loud moments that make sense, but the imbalance I’m referencing is with the score. Speaking of score, briefly, it is beautiful. It has great string parts and is enjoyable to listen to. My problem is that they blare it in this film. There are many moments in the film where, in lieu of the audio of the events, they see fit to play the score really loudly (louder than much of anything else that happens in the film). This was so extensive it caused some crackling in the speakers in my theater. I’m sure part of that is the facility, but it honestly didn’t need to be that loud. It felt majorly imbalanced and, despite being a good score, it wasn’t as enjoyable to listen to.

Overall, I really enjoyed Jackie. I think it is brilliant character piece with one stellar performance at its core. I think it suffers slightly from some poor castings and performances, and from having weird audio imbalance issues. I still believe that Jackie is a must see film and I was moved in moments by how good it was at times.

Ryan’s Score: 8.5/10

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