Film Review: Jackie

Phil Turner takes a look at the critically-revered biopic Jackie, starring Natalie Portman in the lead role.

To the average American, the death of JFK is every bit as significant as Princess Diana’s premature demise is to the Brits, perhaps even more so. And of course, Hollywood has trod this particular path many times before, perhaps most memorably with Oliver Stone’s 1992 conspiracy thriller, JFK. The Kennedy family were as close as the US has come to having a royal family, and perhaps that’s why director Pablo Larraín thought it fitting to create an entire movie which essentially covers the three days following JFK’s death as we watch his wife plan his funeral whilst grappling with how it will affect the family legacy.

The first English language film from Larraín, it is a classy looking piece, tapping into a European art-house style in terms of its structure (told in a series of flashbacks), close up camera work (which invades every pore of Portman’s face for much of the film) and performances, which are at times deliberately stiff. Portman has received wide acclaim for her display as Jackie, and deservedly so.

It’s a demanding role for sure, Portman is rarely off screen and captures the voice and mannerisms of the First Lady superbly. Her scenes with the excellent but sadly now departed John Hurt are among the most poignant, not just because of the strength of the two performances but also because Jackie becomes a far more sympathetic character as she bares more of her true self to Hurt’s likeable cleric.

My issue in the film isn’t in its acting though. The truth is it’s an overlong, drawn-out exercise in someone planning a funeral. A very important funeral, yes, but a funeral nonetheless. And while many of the critics have enjoyed the way it explores the nature of how you’d cope with the death of someone who was not only significant to you but also someone to the entire world, to me, it lacked drama and dare I say it, action.

It’s deliberately slow-moving of course; the idea is we live these moments with Jackie and try to understand her mental conflict, but as she changes her mind for the umpteenth time as to whether she would follow the coffin by foot (an obvious security risk) or in the safety of a car, I found myself just wishing she would get on with it.

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