How many bullets were fired, from where and by whom will forever be debated by conspiracy theorists, but there’s no doubting that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, shocked the world.
The brutality of his slaying and the horror of his wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy scrambling onto the boot of the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible to scoop up his dashed brains before cradling his head in her replica Chanel, pink-suited lap is still ingrained in the public consciousness.
At first teased, with Mica Levi’s unsettling, discordant score evoking a blaring car horn, that awful event is then recreated in terrifying detail in Jackie, a new film by incredibly talented Chilean director Pablo Larraín.
Starring a career-best, Oscar-deserving Natalie Portman as the titular First Lady, as awful as that terrible tableau is, the bloody execution is at once the most sickening and the most artistic scene.
It’s a perfect shot encapsulating the very personal tragedy of a woman who lost her husband in the most horrific manner while on public show.
Captured by French cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, who also shot Paul Verhoeven’s gloriously wicked Elle starring Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert, it’s one of many jaw-dropping visions in this meticulous biopic.
Jackie choosing JFK’s burial spot in a haunting, mist-strewn Arlington National Cemetery, her heels sinking in the dirt; an oil painting-like aerial shot as his coffin is laid in state at the Capitol rotunda, and the black veil billowing across her shrouded face while proudly marching in his funeral procession.
Larraín’s first English-language feature, the battle between privacy and public expectation is at the heart of this staggering movie.
Jackie bears unimaginable grief while forced to paint a brave face, laying JFK to rest in a fitting manner while securing his legacy.
A heartrending study that’s most potent as Jackie strips off her bloodstained outfit and showers his remnants from her hair, Portman’s performance banishes all accusations of mimicry, though her look and accent are faultless, imbuing the role with such obviously pained humanity.
Written by Noah Oppenheim, who has previously only penned teen dystopias The Maze Runner and Allegiant, this intense drama unravels the chaos of the week that followed in non-linear fashion.
Portman’s tour de force is supported by an array of subtly brilliant performances, from Peter Sarsgaard’s ruffled Bobby Kennedy, protectively defending his brother’s political achievements, to indie darling Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s assistant and confidante Nancy.
There’s also an affecting role for John Hurt as Jackie’s priest, as she rails against the cruelty of burying two infant children and now her husband.
Jackie is framed by an interview with an unnamed journalist played by Billy Crudup, standing in for Theodore H. White and his seminal profile for Life magazine.
His sparring with the grieving widow and her zealous guarding of her memories provides some necessary dark humour and strikes at the core of the public/private divide.
Intersected real footage of a CBS doco where Jackie led a tour of the mid-historic renovation of the White House also plays on this theme.
Perhaps most fascinating is the barely restrained contempt Jackie shows to the new President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch), a rift underscored by the dreadful sight of Jackie witnessing Lyndon’s swearing-in while still wearing her bloodied suit.
“Let them see what they have done,” she defiantly cries to his unseen assassins.
Larraín’s Jackie pulls back the veil on the awful, messy truth behind the impeccably dressed icon that is Jacqueline Kennedy even as she struggles to maintain the modern-day Camelot myth that Life feature inspired, she and her husband’s “one shining moment” in office.