Pablo Larrain was born in Santiago, Chile in 1976 and in the decade between 2006 and 2016 has directed seven feature length films and writing the screenplays for four of these. As the son of prominent Chilean politicians it's therefore unsurprising to learn that the majority of his films focus on the turbulent political history of his home country. My blog here however is a special one off on his latest film, Jackie, a film which captured my imagination immediately I saw it in February 2017 and resonated so deeply with me that it remains with me to this day.
If you were to take a peek into my blog archives you will see that my golden rule (aside from spoilers) with all of my film blogs is to watch and review every film in a Director's career and not just specialise on one particular film. However, rules are there to be broken! Here is just a flavour for his other six released feature films before my spoiler free review of Jackie:
"I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy"
Being both a lifetime film fanatic with an intense fascination for the life, presidency and ultimately assassination of John F Kennedy, I was incredibly eager to see this film as soon as it was released in the UK. I was not disappointed and three subsequent viewings later this is a rare film that stays with you long after you've left the darkness of the cinema. I may have a conflict of interest in a way, as since my late teens I have read and collected numerous books on the life of her husband, JFK, consider Oliver Stone's 1991 film JFK my favourite all time film despite it's flaws and bombastic style and ultimately hold JFK in the highest esteem as my political hero as he strove constantly for peace and historic political change across all areas of American life, from the internal reforms of the CIA and FBI through to constitutional change and equality for all. But this film does not venture into any of that territory, and deliberately so, with no specific focus on JFK or his political aspirations and desires for change but on his horrified widow in the immediate days following her husband's assassination.
The titular role here of "Jackie" is no small undertaking and brilliantly realised in the shape of Natalie Portman. Oscar nominated in 2017 for her portrayal here, what impresses the most is the sheer humanity she shows throughout the film and equally the empathy she draws from you as an audience. Jackie is in the eye of the storm raging around here, her life turned upside down in the matter of a few days and in the most public way imaginable. Portman carries herself eerily well and reminiscent of the black and white stock footage I have seen so many times of Jackie Kennedy and the voice is carried off well also. But for me it was her stoicism in her outwardly public dealing with her husband's death that shines through the film (and Portman's incredible performance), empathising with the incoming President "Lyndon B Johnson" (John Carroll Lynch) as she feels for him and the position he's in despite her own heartbreaking situation with "Lyndon, what an awful way to begin your presidency" and her interactions with her husband's younger brother "Bobby Kennedy" (Peter Sarsgaard). Sarsgaard should have been Oscar nominated for his portrayal of a broken man, for Bobby adored his older brother and Sarsgaard conveys this with a quiet, non showy performance of grief. In the days following the assassination life literally has to goes on and through her grief Jackie attends a birthday party for her son affectionately known in the family as "John John" as well as being an integral part of the funeral preparations for her husband and the juxtaposition between the two couldn't be any more stark. Major political figures and members in the lives of the Kennedy's feature, with superb cameo performances from Greta Gerwig as Jackie's closest White House friend and confidant "Nancy Tuckerman", Richard E Grant as White House Interior Decorator "Bill Walton" Beth Grant as "Lady Bird Johnson" and Caspar Phillipson as "President John F Kennedy". It is to in coming new First Lady, Lady Johnson, to whom Jackie delivers her immortal line that has carried into history as she refuses to change from her blood splattered pink dress with the heartbreaking "Let them see what they've done".
The cornerstone of the film is a re-enactment of an interview with Theodore White from Time Magazine a week after the assassination. White, here named simply as "The Journalist" (Billy Crudup) is in the unenviable position of conducting an interview with a broken and devastated woman, with Crudup portraying the difficulty of the situation very well with awkward glances, wry smiles and compassion yet probing questions. Jackie is forthcoming and blunt with her assessments, with her loyalty resting with her husband, the truth and (repeatedly) "the American people". But on the subject of the assassination itself and more notably her feelings and emotions, she chides the journalist with a terse "Don't think for a second I'm going to let you publish that". Whilst the interview itself is seemingly held over one day at the home Jackie shared with JFK in Hyannisport, Massachusetts and which provides the through line for the entire film, the film is non-linear, constantly moving backwards and forwards along the timeline of John and Jackie's tenure in The White House. Stock television footage of the day is also employed and often subtly so, but interweaved into the narrative is Jackie's famous "Tour of the White House" in 1961 as she wanted to show the American people the changes being made and importantly perhaps, the actual inside of America's most famous building for the first time. This is completed both through stock footage of the day but also via another re-enactment both in front of and from behind the camera, capturing a shy and somewhat unsure of herself, and that of her role, First Lady early in her husband's Presidency in 1961. Stock footage is also used of the days following the assassination however the film really focuses on Jackie herself, alone in the White House struggling to come to grips with her grief and loss and surrounded by the memories of her husband. Quietly captured by the Director's quiet and unobtrusive camera, Jackie's grief is open for the audience to see, undressing from her blood soaked pink dress or quietly walking around The White House lost and alone with only her thoughts for company. Fearing of her own thoughts, Jackie seeks solace and guidance from "The Priest" with John Hurt providing an empathetic if pragmatic Irish Priest in his final role before his sad death in January 2017.
Alongside Natalie Portman's incredible Oscar nominated performance, two further Oscar nominations were also gained by Madeline Fontaine for achievement in costume design and Mica Levi for her haunting, melancholic strings and piano inspired musical score reminiscent of the scores provided by Jonny Greenwood for Paul Thomas Anderson's films such as There Will be Blood or The Master.
Jackie is such an incredible film and one that given the chance will remain with you long after you've left the cinema. Despite it's obvious melancholic air I cannot recommend it highly enough.
"I will march with Jack, alone if necessary" Jackie proclaims defiantly, and march she did, along with numerous members of Heads of State from around the world, on another day the world would never forget.