Jackie review: by Rob Stoakes
UK certification: 15
There are people still mourning.
We look at the life he led, all of the accomplishments attributed to him, and the state of the world both at the height of his glory and at the point he left it, and we ask ourselves “Why?” One of our great icons that millions looked up to and will continue to look up, gone in an instant. No, it won’t make his work vanish, but still a tragedy nonetheless.
I’m of course talking about the death of John Hurt earlier this year, one of the greatest stage actors ever and in my personal top ten. He most certainly deserves an entire article dedicated to him on this site, and I would really like it if his legacy doesn’t end up boiling down to Jackie, which overall is kind of naff.
Natalie Portman plays Jackie, the wife of JFK, as she recounts the immediate days after her husband’s assassination to a journalist. And then there’s a series of surprisingly easily solved conflicts. She has to pick a burial spot… and she does. She has to decide whether the big procession she wants is safe or not… and she does. She has to decide what to wear… and she does.
Before you think that’s a joke, by the way, that’s actually not far from the truth. The film has a fascination with interior decorating and Jackie styling out the newest style of black dresses. Seriously, no one will shut up about the curtains in the White House. It all builds on a theme of legacy and history and being close to history by having old antiques in the White House but the only point seems to be this:
“Being close to history makes you… umm… close to history? Which is good! Because history, and Lincoln, and chairs, and necklaces, and nighties, and this mahogany piano adorned with eagles are all of the prizes you could’ve won!”
And speaking of Jackie, let’s get to Natalie Portman, Keira Knightley’s evil doppelganger, from a mirror universe where Napoleon invaded Britain and consequently sentenced all actresses to a life of Oscar-chasing through lesbian make-outs and topless scenes. So maybe not that dissimilar from our own universe then. Like all extra-dimensional beings, The Port Man possesses evil impersonation powers because her voice is pretty much exact. She sounds exactly like Jackie Kennedy did in those “In the White House” interviews she gave.
And only like those interviews.
This is the trap you can fall into with impersonations; it’s a different art to acting. She rarely ventures into the alterations in cadence or pitch you get when real humans display real emotions. Take as a counterexample Bruno Ganz from Downfall. Now, he didn’t really sound like Hitler, more a terrier that’s put its nut-sack in a tank of crabs, but the fact that he was more concerned with acting like a person rather than sounding like a particular soundbite made for what is ultimately a much better performance.
Speaking of things that have admirable qualities but are overall pants, the direction pairs up clever ideas with moments of bewildering incompetence. Mixing in old-timey footage and colouring modern scenes in the same except for Jackie herself, juxtaposing the grainy, historical version of events with her own intimate memories? I like that a lot.
And so did the filmmakers because they throw it in randomly in-between scenes. There’s one small part where road markings that were painted in the 2000’s suddenly vanish for a single frame as the footage comes in, and that kind of gaff is bafflingly unforgivable from Hollywood. The film is full of similar blink-and-you’ll-miss-it errors, and it’s not like the rest of the bland, dull direction is good enough to distract from them.
The best parts of the film all, of course, have John Hurt in them. He’s barely in it but brings such a human warmth that seems to seep even into the film itself. The normally ill-paced editing slows down, the script doubles in nuance, and even Intergalactic Invader Port Man looks more comfortable in her role. It’s not his career best, but at least Jackie gives us one last moment of great acting from one of the industry’s finest.
Shame about the rest of it being like a kid’s crayon; dull and pointless.
Budget: $9 million/Music: Mica Levi/Length: 100 minutes