Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: Jackie

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
"When it comes to printing the truth or the legend, print the legend," so the saying goes and this maxim applies to Pablo Larrain's myth-busting "Jackie," a fascinating snapshot of time following the days after JFK's death as his wife (Natalie Portman) plans funeral arrangements and attempts to come to grips with her husband's assassination.

These flashbacks are centered around a framing device during which Jackie is interviewed by a reporter (Billy Crudup) who wants to get at the truth of what occurred on Nov. 22, 1963 from the perspective of the first lady. But Portman portrays Jackie as a woman who has seen too much to suffer fools gladly and most of the scenes of her speaking to the reporter give the feeling of a game of chess and we get the sense that she has more control over the discussion than she originally lets on.

Along with the sequences - powerfully rendered - during which Jackie and the Secret Service rush her husband to the hospital and the aftermath, which includes the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson and the funeral procession in Washington D.C., Larrain includes another flashback during which Jackie takes part in the famous TV special several years earlier when she gave a tour of the White House. Similar to the scene in which she speaks to the reporter, the facade Jackie puts on during the White House tour calls into question whether the viewer is actually getting to know her or is watching a performance.

There are a number of ideas floating around in the film, which is a relatively brief 99 minutes, including the aforementioned concept of whether people can handle a fictional story better than the truth about people whom they know or, in the case of Jackie Kennedy, persons so famous that they believe they know them.

But there's also another very interesting subplot (for such a short film, there are a number of threads running at the same time and they are all handled deftly) during which Jackie speaks to a priest (John Hurt) about whether she can move forward with her life. This is taking place as she relocates the remains of two of her children who died (one was a miscarriage, the other only lived a brief time after he was born) next to the gravesite of her husband. Hurt's commentary on man's search for the meaning of life and how they carry on in the face of there possibly not being one adds another dimension to the picture that makes it more philosophical than your average picture about a famous person.

Larrain is Chile's most celebrated filmmaker and he has tackled both political films (the very good "No") and movies about well-known people (the upcoming "Neruda") before. But "Jackie," although it technically fits into both of those categories, is not so easily categorized.

It's a movie that argues that sometimes the myth surrounding a person is more easily understandable and relatable than the actual person, who is more complicated, flawed or uncertain than you might be led to believe. And what makes the film even more fascinating is how it implies that this can apply not only to someone as recognized as Jackie Kennedy, but to you or me. "Jackie" features one of the year's best performances and is a film that takes a unique perspective on how to view a landmark historical event. I'd highly recommend it.

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