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Sunday, December 18, 2016

REVIEW: JACKIE delves into the politics of assassination

History always has a decisive advantage over people trapped in moments as they're happening: perspective. Perspective tends to blur small details and completely erase others all together in favor of The Big Picture, the enduring details that last. But who decides what that picture looks like?

When it comes to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, those who weren't around to experience his administration firsthand are left to ponder the legacy he left behind. Jackie looks at one of the most important icons of his administration - his wife, Jacqueline - and the role she played in shaping Kennedy's legacy, even in the wake of tragedy.

Rather than taking the typical form of a biopic, Jackie focuses solely on the moments directly before and the weeks directly after Kennedy's assassination. It arguably functions primarily as a stage for showmanship, and Natalie Portman rises to the occasion perfectly, making her a shoe-in for Oscar nominations and probable for a win. Using a framing device of a one-on-one interview with a journalist shortly after Kennedy's murder, Jackie delves beyond a one-dimensional view of the first lady as a fashion icon and shows the loneliness, frustration, and rage she experiences when she realizes everything she and her husband have worked for to craft a legacy has been cut short.

Ostensibly, some of the work Jackie takes on may appear superficial. Before John's death, she spends money renovating the interior of the White House, puts on concerts and parties, and then, once he is killed, takes charge in planning what John's funeral will entail. But she's not focusing on what would look nice or what John would have wanted - she even admits he hated the way she spent money and that he'd be horrified at the idea of a lavish funeral. Instead, Jackie perceives this duty as one that is critical in shaping the way people will remember her husband's presidency. And after grilling some strangers over what details they can remember about dead presidents, she gets to work creating the most evocative service she can. Can they march outside of cars, with a cloud of danger and fear hanging over the city? What kind of access should the press have to her children? Where should his grave be?

It may not seem like much, but it's easy for the audience to see that Jackie is using every ounce of the power available to her, as a woman, to do as much as she can behind the scenes, right down to the very calculated interview she holds with a reporter - an interview she practically writes for the journalist, comparing John's administration to a "Camelot," an iconic comparison that is preserved in the public's mind for decades to come.

There are, of course, other people in this film, but they all play second fiddle to Portman. Peter Sarsgaard is probably the next-most important and impactful player in the role of Robert Kennedy. The score and cinematography are also top-notch, which you would absolutely expect and perhaps even require for a film focusing on a figure who knew the importance of appearances.

A decent comparison for Jackie is last year's movie Carol - I happened to like Jackie more, because I didn't feel the chemistry in Carol, but beyond the obvious fact that they're both period pieces showcasing strong female leads, they have similar strengths and weaknesses. Jackie isn't perfect, and I think the pacing gets a little bit messy and confused towards the middle of the film, much like it did in Carol. Overall, though, if you want to be up-to-date on the Oscar nominated films this year, Jackie should be on your list for Portman's performance alone.

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