Pablo Larrain’s Jackie: Hard To Watch, Hard To Look Away

Pablo Larrain jackie review

In Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie,” Natalie Portman delivers an intensely emotional portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, says essayist Dennis D. McDonald. Review.

aNewDomaindennis d. mcdonald — What strikes the viewer immediately about Pablo Larrain’s Jackie isn’t the imagery. It’s composer Mica Levi’s score. The music is relentlessly atmospheric and even ethereal at times.

Think of a Philip Glass score, but without the rhythm (if that is possible). Levi’s music manages to place the viewer in another time and place, Levi never resorts to the hackneyed early 1960s pop music that films set in this period usually foist on you.

It’s a prescient decision, and one that lets you fully focus on the character of Jackie (Natalie Portman) as she tries to hold things together immediately following the 1963 assassination in Dallas of her husband, Pres. John F. Kennedy.

Watching Portman in this role made me wonder about her own grip on reality. Her approach to getting into Jackie’s head projects wildly fluctuating feelings and emotions. This makes it, at times, difficult to watch.

But you also can’t turn away. Portman is front and center almost 100 percent of the time, and much of the time she’s coming at you in full-face closeups.

Natalie Portman as Jackie movie review playlist dot netDirector Pablo Larrain (Neruda) has infused this film with an amazing level of detail. The White House recreation looks real down to the paintings hanging on the walls. Sit through the credits and you’ll see a large list of acknowledgments to various museums, collections and owners.

In JACKIE, the focus is people and politics, and the movie stands apart in this way, too. And it’s subtle: The back and forth between Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard, last seen by me as the bad guy in The Magnificent Seven) and Jackie is heavily nuanced.

Even brief vignettes are carefully played. When Jackie tells LBJ to “Sit down,” the interplay between those characters says everything.

Dennis D. McDonald Jackie Review Pablo LarrainDespite its story and characters, Jackie is no history lesson. Rather, it’s an emotional treatment of how an intelligent young mother of two small children struggles to hold things together as her world is torn apart.

It may be fashionable these days to denigrate JFK’s personal and political failings, that’s not what is on display here. In Jackie, a strong but vulnerable and, at times, shrewd young woman walks an emotional tightrope as she balances her personal and public lives under extraordinary circumstances.

In this regard, Jackie succeeds admirably.
For aNewDomain, I’m Dennis D. McDonald.

Here’s the official trailer Jackie trailer from FOX Searchlight.

Cover image: Fox Searchlight Films via IMDB, All Rights Reserved.

An earlier version of this movie review ran on Dennis D. McDonald’s DDMCD site. Read it here.  Find all his essays on aNewDomain here.

About the author

Dennis D McDonald

Dennis D. McDonald is an independent consultant based in Alexandria Virginia. His interests include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and technology adoption. Clients have included the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, National Academy of Engineering, the World Bank, University Research Co., Catalyst Rx, the National Library of Medicine and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.