Sunday, December 25, 2016

12 Days of Christmas Catch Up, day 12: Jackie

On the 12th day of Christmas Catch Up my true love (cinema!) brought me “Jackie.” 

“Jackie” written by Noah Oppenheim and directed by Pablo Larrain, examines Jackie Kennedy’s attempt to define both her husband’s and her own legacy in the seven days after his assassination.

The film begins with a standoff of sorts between Natalie Portman’s Jackie and Billy Crudup’s “The Journalist,” (based on Theodore H. White who interviewed Jackie for LIFE magazine) some time after JFK has been assassinated and Jackie has returned to Massachusetts. Before they even make it inside, Jackie begins testing the journalist in a face off that has each actor looking almost directly into the camera. This demands our attention, forcing us, with absolutely no apology, into Larrain’s world. 

In this opening exchange, Jackie the character lets us know straight away that this will be a film about perception. A perception that Jackie controls, giving the people what they want—a glimpse into her life—but through her tightly controlled lens. The little we may know of the real Jackie (thanks to that control of how she was perceived) allows Larrain to explore an alternate reality of what could have been. An imagined reality that feels intensely intimate but never voyeuristic.

In one of the film’s highlights Oppenheim and Larrain imagine one of Jackie’s last nights in the White House. All alone, she plays “Camelot,” drinks vodka, smokes incessantly, all the while changing into what seems like every outfit she owns.  This scene comes across as both believable and fantastic. Utterly plausible but also fantasy.  It’s a fine line on which Larrain expertly balances throughout the entire film. 

The manner in which Oppenheim/Larrain tell the story, not quite linear, but with a definite sense of direction gives the film a dream like state that mirrors the distortion of grief.  Scenes are meticulously played out—some in order, some not, with some hauntingly revisited (such as the assassination itself)—in a way that keeps us without a true sense of time, keeping the audience slightly on edge and always enveloped in Larrain’s vision. 

“Jackie” is a cinematic work of art, and at its center is Portman, giving the performance of the year.  It’s as if the Jackie we have known all these years has been completely deconstructed. Portman’s Jackie is created on the foundation of her grief. Everything else is delicately balanced on top of that. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is performance art in the most complimentary sense. 

The film itself might be a bit too high art for some members of The Academy to put it in competition for Best Picture, but Portman’s performance is undeniable. It is her Oscar to lose.

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