Pablo Larraín's JACKIE
"Extraordinary in its piercing intimacy and lacerating in its sorrow."
"Eschewing standard biopic form at every turn," writes Variety's Guy Lodge, "this brilliantly constructed, diamond-hard character study observes as the exhausted, conflicted Jackie [as she] attempts to disentangle her own perspective, her own legacy and, perhaps hardest of all, her own grief from a tragedy shared by millions. Provocative and entirely unsentimental in the speculative voice given to its subject’s most private thoughts on marriage, faith and self-image, and galvanized by Natalie Portman’s complex, meticulously shaded work in the lead, Jackie may alienate viewers expecting a more conventionally sympathetic slab of filmed history. But… Larraín’s status as the most daring and prodigious political filmmaker of his generation remains undimmed."
Writing for Screen, Jonathan Romney notes that the screenplay, "by The Maze Runner and Allegiant writer Noah Oppenheimer, builds its portrait around a classic device—Jackie is interviewed at home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, shortly after the assassination, by a serious and generally tactful reporter (a fine Billy Crudup), who nevertheless wants the facts of the Dallas shooting from her point of view. Brittle, knowing and quietly in the throes of grief and anger, Jackie takes control of the discussion, making it clear that she’s learned much about both power and publicity during her short spell as First Lady…. Other key figures in the drama include a briefly glimpsed JFK (dead ringer Caspar Phillipson), Jackie’s secretary and confidante Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and her brother-in-law, attorney general Bobby Kennedy. He’s played by Peter Sarsgaard as a tense, careworn figure aware that he’s about to lose power."
"Extraordinary in its piercing intimacy and lacerating in its sorrow, Jackie is a remarkably raw portrait," writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. "The movie's gut punch owes part of its exceptional force to Mica Levi's emotionally charged score, its requiem-style strings heavy with sorrow, sometimes distorted to express a surreal state of warped reality (reminiscent of her fabulous work on Under the Skin)."
Updates, 9/8: "You can see a lot of Larraín’s 2012 film No in Jackie’s expert blending of archive footage with mocked-up imagery of Portman et al.," writes Rory O'Connor at the Film Stage, "while—even more interestingly, perhaps—Larraín has retained that film’s (and surely his own) fascination with and cynicism towards American politics. There’s nothing subtle in Portman’s eyes when she looks on as Lyndon B. Johnson is sworn in on Air Force One the night of the assassination. There’s also a clear sense of menace and dizziness as Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird (significantly played by the great Beth Grant, often a baddie) guides Jackie and John to the cavalcade in her home state of Texas."
For Indiewire's Kate Erbland, "Jackie is, despite a few wrinkles at the end, about the best version of this story you can get."
John Bleasdale at CineVue: "Larraín is as good at navigating the treacherous waters of internal White House politics as he is capturing the moments of intense, if numbed, private suffering, as when Jackie must tell her children that their daddy has gone. He is ably aided by Stephane Fontaine's cinematography, which manages to get up close to Jackie while at the same time maintaining a sense of the environment in which she moved."
"Portman is most definitely eyeing the Volpi Cup (and the Oscar)," declares Camillo De Marco at Cineuropa.
Update, 9/9: Raphael Abraham, dispatching to the Financial Times from Venice: "Portman captures the slightly stiff gait and the mid-Atlantic drawl, though the breathy, soporific delivery she adopts at times brings to mind—of all people—Marilyn Monroe. At 35, Portman’s beauty is starting to be contoured by life experience in a way that is bringing new depths to her performances."
Updates, 9/10: "Portman’s most complex character since Black Swan is as concerned about her own future as she is about her husband’s legacy," writes Tommaso Tocci for Cinema Scope. "Linking the two is a motif that subtly turns Jackie into a film about places: places in history, places to rest, places you’ve created and must now leave, places you’ll move to, even though 'nothing’s ever mine.' … Jackie lives and dies by Larraín’s extreme close-ups of his protagonist, especially in the handheld, agitated shots aboard Air Force One following the assassination."
"The moment at which Lyndon Johnson is inaugurated, suddenly leaving Jackie an isolated figure on the sidelines, is magnificently poignant," writes Jonathan Romney in the Guardian. "Portman has never quite seemed a heavyweight player before now—I wasn’t convinced by her in her other Venice feature, eccentric French period piece Planetarium—but in Jackie she gives an authoritatively nuanced performance."
Meantime, Noah Oppenheim has won this year's best screenplay award.
Update, 9/13: "In Larraín’s watchful aesthetic, Portman’s intensity works rather perfectly—together they create something transfixing, a film that washes over you as it loops and lingers," writes Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson. More from Linda Holmes (NPR), Nigel M. Smith (Guardian, 5/5) and Erin Whitney (ScreenCrush).
Updates, 9/15: "At first," writes the AV Club's A.A. Dowd, "Portman seems distracting in the role, the accent catching in her throat, her every line and mannerism coming across as studied. But that affected quality is all part of the strategy of Jackie, which establishes its interest in performance… through cutaways to a recreated, all-smiles tour of the White House." Jackie "is so arrestingly off-kilter that it puts most of its biopic brethren to shame."
For RogerEbert.com, Alexander Huls talks with Larraín about his two biopics at the festival.
Updates, 9/18: "Jackie goes dead in the moments when we're meant to simply feel its protagonist's pain rather than dissect it," writes Sam Adams for the BBC. "It's an intellectual experience rather than an emotional one, but the ideas in play are so heady they're enough to sweep you away on their own."
"You'd have thought that everything about that pivotal moment in American history had already been said," writes Rolling Stone's David Fear. "You'd have been wrong."
"Portman balances the two halves of Jackie brilliantly, altering the incredible degree of control that Jackie had in personal dynamics depending on who she talks to," notes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. "Watch how she acts differently with a religious figure than a political one or a journalist."
Updates, 12/3: "Jackie doesn’t try to complete that impossible, apparently unfinishable movie, the never-ending epic known as The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and What It Means to History," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Instead, set largely after his death, it explores the intersection of the private and the public while ruminating on the transformation of the past into myth. It also pulls off a nice representational coup because it proves that the problem known as the Movie Wife—you know her, the little lady hovering at the edge of both the frame and story—can be solved with thought and good filmmaking…. In a 2011 essay in Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens took a whack at Jacqueline Kennedy, arguing that her 'winsome innocence,' as he put it, was 'a soft cover for a specific sort of knowingness and calculation.' This knowingness seemed to repulse him; it galvanizes Jackie."
The film "now arrives smack on history’s latest fault line," notes Nicolas Rapold in Brooklyn Magazine. "It looks conceived as a surefire starry gloss on a well-trod part of America’s past, a shrewd reflection on legacy using a political figure more frequently viewed as glamorous icon and noble survivor—all of this shadowed by the irony of being close to power but not having power, an irony which could have felt quaintly anachronistic. Now, in light of recent events, it might be hard to view the film’s delicate personal-political balance without dwelling, morbidly and simply, on the inescapable fact of historical cataclysm, and how it marks a generation for years to come."
For Nick Pinkerton, writing for Reverse Shot, Jackie is "a laborious ordeal of unceasing histrionic assault and gymnastic hysterics, in its way a feminine counterpart to the monotonous masculine trudge of The Revenant, though Jackie has the decency at least to be brief."
"Jackie never feels like a ploddingly banal biopic, nor does it demonstrate the slightest interest in inspiration or uplift," grants Slate's Dana Stevens. "Yet it’s not always clear what Larraín is setting out to do in this handsomely mounted character portrait, other than showcase an elaborately mannered performance by Natalie Portman."
"Larraín draws us into the utter uniqueness of a situation where personal loss and national duty collided so violently," finds Scott Tobias, writing for NPR. "No reasonable person could be expected to absorb a tragedy of that magnitude, but Jackie makes shrewd political decisions and stands firmly behind them when others plea for caution. Shock and lucidity would seem to be contradictory responses, but Jackie makes that duality seem possible and astonishingly heroic."
"But where’s the line between a sensitive work of imagination and an invasion of real-life grief in the service of arty filmmaking?" wonders Time's Stephanie Zacharek. "There’s a lot of clever technique in Jackie, like its canny, razor-precise editing. But there’s also something arch and distant about the picture. Portman tries to portray this most enigmatic figure as frosty, inscrutable and vulnerable, but the performance comes off as calculating and mannered."
On the other hand, Will Leitch in the New Republic: "Portman has to play it all here; it’s a four-quadrants performance with the extra added weight of avoiding an impersonation of one of the most recognizable women in American history. That she not only pulls it off, but does so while never feeling like she’s reaching, is breathtaking."
"After stripping off the veils of a legend, Jackie succumbs, at the last, and devotedly puts them back on," writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.
"A big part of the problem (for me, anyway) is that Larraín seems to want to make a statement, perhaps one of the ultimate statements, on the transformation of lived experience into myth," writes Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com. "This film really doesn't have the intellectual chops to pull it off, never mind the question of whether that sort of movie is inherently more important and serious and worthy of critical superlatives than the simpler, more emotionally driven one about a widow coming to terms with the loss of her husband and her responsibilities to her children (both the biological ones and the symbolic ones, i.e. the American people)."
"If you ever get lost at a point in the narrative of Jackie, another character will come out of the woodwork to explain its meaning," writes Peter Labuza for LAist. "John Hurt as a priest not only recalls a parable but explains its literal connection to Kennedy's life; the film not only plays 'Camelot' twice, but allows her to explains its exact meaning after she notes, 'One last thing—and this is the most important.' Because the film barely forms anything of a suspenseful narrative (just how will those funeral arrangements play out!?), it simply states a number of themes as opposed to embodying them."
Mike Ryan interviews Larraín for Uproxx.
Updates, 12/14: "Portman’s performance is one for the ages because, in its fabulous poise, it is camp," writes A.S. Hamrah in n+1. "She surpasses Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford and Glenn Close as Sunny von Bülow because the woman she plays is sympathetic."
"Most foreign directors have to sell out a little bit and play by the rules when they come to America and work with big movie stars, so I was pleasantly shocked to see how much of a Pablo Larraín movie Jackie turned out to be," writes Sean Burns.
Update, 12/15: "It’s possible," suggests Roderick Heath, "to read the film as reclamation and a riposte to Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), a film named for the man but which also utterly erased him and the horror inherent in his demise from its focus, chasing the echo of bewilderment and derangement that followed his death through an endless house of mirrors. Jackie by contrast depicts the paranoia squirming under the surface of the days following the President’s death, the fear of guns and madmen and conspirators in every shadow, but also dedicates itself to studying the acts that rob such spectres of power, as well as the utterly intimate, corporeal reality of such a death."
Update, 12/17: "One thing I kept coming back to when watching the film is how Jackie’s experiences are so relatable as a woman," writes Anna Swanson at Above the Line. "She is constantly monitoring how she acts and viewing her actions through the lens of how others will perceive them and how she will be perceived. This self-consciousness is obviously magnified when it comes from the First Lady of the United States, but it’s something women experience every day and it’s so rarely properly discussed or given consideration in film."
Updates, 12/21: In the Nation, Stuart Klawans finds that "the film opens into associative, achronological flashbacks, which take her through a series of public and private personas: from the stiffly grinning hostess of her celebrated TV walk-through of the White House, through the fierce partisan for her husband battling to give him a funeral equal to Lincoln’s, to the national figurehead fulfilling the role she’s written for herself as the dignified widow and mother. Love and ambition struggle again, this time to world-shaping effect without and (in the devastating last scenes) despair within."
For Adam Nayman, writing for Cinema Scope, Jackie "suggests nothing so much as a half-season’s worth of Quality TV stripped down, squeezed together, and then carefully retouched with art-cinema make-up for just the right haunted, lifelike look."
Update, 12/25: "In the end, only Portman’s acting genuinely stands up," finds Steve Erickson, writing for the Nashville Scene. "This is grief porn—a one-note wallow in sadness that’s as exploitative as Cannibal Holocaust in its own polite way. And I mean 'porn' literally: Larraín has the bad taste to restage the Zapruder film, with Jackie cradling her husband’s brains in her lap. Levi’s score, which largely consists of downbeat minimalist string drones, disappoints, too."
Update, 1/8: "The film’s morbidity is extraordinary," writes Christopher Sharrett for Film International, "from the black frames that punctuate the establishing sequence to the first unnerving chords of Mica Levi’s dissonant score. The sky is permanently overcast, appropriate to the subject matter, yet reminding us a bit much of the myth that after JFK, everything turned into a wasteland."
Update, 1/19: "It is well made, handsomely furnished, punctiliously designed," grants the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "But, like so many films based on real and well-known events, I feel Jackie gets a little bit of a free ride in simply fabricating the look of iconic images, moments and public figures. Undoubtedly, Larraín has done something more visually demanding than a regular biopic; there is no hamminess or straining for effect. But there is a kind of complacency in the film’s almost trance-like sense of how beautiful it is, and something almost glib in assuming its audience will be knowing yet deferential, like Crudup’s interviewer."
Update, 1/23: "In stark contrast to familiar, long-lens news footage, cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, whose credits include A Prophet and Rust and Bone, keeps his 16mm cameras painfully close to Portman throughout," notes the Observer's Mark Kermode. "From the matching vanity mirror shots of Jackie before and after the assassination, to the tight-focus, handheld views of her dazed face as she stares into an uncertain future, she dominates the 1.66:1 frame, isolated even in company…. Only on second viewing did I realize that her Jackie was not alienating but alienated."