One of the most shocking moments of the 20th Century was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on 22nd November 1963. Driving along Dealy Plaza in the early afternoon, two shots were fired by a single assassin. The enduring image is that of his wife, First Lady Jackie Kennedy, as she scrambles to protect her husband, head in lap, striving to comprehend what had just happened to her. It was a tragedy.
Central to Pablo Larraín’s biopic of Jackie Kennedy is a stunningly affecting performance from Natalie Portman. She’s capable of being both isolating and isolated within moments, in one of the most complex performances you could ever wish to take on as an actor. Portman doesn’t need to remind us of her capabilities, which we’ve known about since her debut as a 13-year-old in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional.
The film is delivered in the form of Jackie Kennedy in an open interview to a nameless Time Magazine reporter (Billy Crudup). She reminisces about her television programme “Inside the White House with Mrs John F. Kennedy”, in which she effused about her collection of presidential memorabilia (as well as her abilities as an interior designer) though the story predominantly focuses on the fateful day in Dallas and the immediate aftermath as she reinvents herself as the director of her husband’s funeral, an event she hopes will rival – or at least evoke the memory of – Abraham Lincoln.
There are some solid supporting roles from the likes of Richard E. Grant, Peter Sarsgaard and the late John Hurt. Greta Gerwig also appears, though I can’t say she is in the same category.
One jarring aspect of the film is the unusual score, provided by the usually brilliant Mica Levi. It’s surprisingly sinister and usually doesn’t match the onscreen visuals, tonally or stylistically. This isn’t Levi’s fault. She’s just doing what she does best (see Under the Skin for her best scoring work). It’s jarring and made me long for something a little more conforming. I’m amazed that it has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score.
Portman, though, is very much deserving of her nomination. It’s a strong year of competition, but she has every chance of taking home her second statue at the 89th Academy Awards.
A must see.