Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s JACKIE redefines biopic, creating a way of looking at history that I’d never experienced in feature films. Noel Oppenheim, former NBC news producer turned screenwriter, applies the perfect hybrid of public affairs experience and dramatic screenplay ingenuity to create a painful, grieving portrait of the widow of President Kennedy in the days following Dallas. Director Larrain cuts between interviews by a reporter of the First Lady in seclusion in Hyannisport weeks after the assassination with dramatizations of planning the President’s funeral that riveted the world. Director Larrain edits in actual news footage - etched in the memories of those of us old enough to have watched it live on television - which heightens the stark contrast between those broadcasts and a startling intimate interpretation of the 20thC's most famous woman in her most painful moments. JACKIE is totally captivating, hypnotic in effect, taking us to a level of psychological drama I’ve never seen in a film adaption of an historical figure.
Larrain’s vision is disarming, I suspect, because he isn’t American, so he he’s not memory-bound. He doesn’t just recreate events: his vision of Mrs. John Kennedy can take enormous risks. But it’s Natalie Portman’s powerful performance that is most fearless. Her depiction of the First Lady is both emotionally bold and technically brilliant. Jackie's upper-class Long Island, finishing-school accent is uncannily precise. Jackie’s personal secretary and friend since childhood Nancy Tuckerman, whom I’ve had the pleasure to know, has the same diction and cadence of speech. (In the movie Nancy speaks with a standard mid-Atlantic American, non- accent.) Portman perfectly interprets Jackie’s alluring, soft, throaty, almost whispered voice.
Besides Portman, the other star is composer Mica Levi’s haunting, yet elegant, musical score, which combines dark, brooding, discordant chords, accented with clear, feminine notes. The principal motifs are funereal, ranging from abjectly mournful to the sublimely elegiac,sometimes with discrete bittersweet accent. Levi’s work is totally original. Still, it recalls the best Morricone soundtracks, Satie etudes and Britton requiems. The score is the glue that Larrain uses to create a trance-like mood, a processional solemnity, to his film.
Sociologists have commented that it was the non-stop, live television coverage of Kennedy’s funeral, which cracked the wall between the public and private in America. In the most penetrating, at times disturbing, way, JACKIE interprets those tragic days in November 1963 through the heart and head of an extraordinary woman who negotiated her public role and private self in the most extraordinary way.