Friday, 27 January 2017


Mica Levi's score opens Jackie with a plaintive, wailing glissando that sounds like both the world falling apart and a global reaction to it. It's the soundtrack of today, but only by coincidence; in its intended context it conveys Jackie Kennedy's state of mind as she tries to cope with life in the days after her husband's assassination. You'll struggle to find many more contemporary parallels in Pablo Larraín's film, thank Christ, but you won't have any trouble recalling Levi's music because it blasts out of the film almost constantly, as if overcompensating for something missing in Natalie Portman's almost comically Oscar-baiting performance.

Portman certainly gives it her all here: with guttural sobs wracking her body in unforgivable close up, she couldn't play more to the Academy if she was wearing a Meryl Streep mask. It's one of those gigs where the ACTING is so foregrounded - the crying, the voice, the walk - that it's impossible not to notice how hard she's working. But at no point during Jackie did I ever forget that I was watching Natalie Portman ACTING. She does a reasonable job of imitating the former First Lady's weird Long Island accent, and has clearly studied the film of her guided tour of the White House (forensically recreated here) to within an inch of its life, but the performance is so mannered that it refused to let me immerse myself in the film.

So severe was this condition that it spread like a virus to the rest of the topline cast, and before long I was marvelling at what an excellent job Greta Gerwig, Richard E Grant, Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt were doing when all I really wanted was to find out a bit more about Jackie Kennedy. It seems crackers to complain about actors being in a film and acting, but perhaps what Jackie needed was more actors and fewer stars, because on the whole it's a reasonably compelling study of bereavement and widowhood; of a person trying to keep it together, remain dignified and honour their deceased loved one while the world hastily moves on.

The inconvenience of people doing their jobs well notwithstanding, Larraín's film is otherwise fine. It's a character study, so there's very little drama to be had, and the short timespan of events covered makes it feel like an episode of an expensive miniseries which I'd probably rather see. But it's classy, elegiac and austere, and its grainy, Instagram-filtered aesthetic (I'm thinking Valencia, possibly Sierra) lends it a nostalgic authenticity that feels obvious but works well. Refreshingly free from the shackles of Stars 'n' Stripes-waving patriotism (such stories are often best told by foreigners, it seems), it can concentrate on telling the universal story of a human being with human problems, albeit problems magnified enormously by circumstance. Or at least it could if Natalie Portman's ACTING didn't keep getting in the way.

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