I've seen many critics and commentators praise Jackie for being an accurate, intelligent, and insightful depiction of Jackie Kennedy and I'm a bit flabbergasted by this. This film came across to me as highly speculative, overly melodramatic, and distant all at the same time. Many of the film's techniques are praiseworthy, but this ultimately doesn't reach the level of a biopic like Patton or Malcolm X.
Jackie follows the life of Jackie Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) during the days after her husband's assassination. The film's framing device is an interview of Jackie with a journalist (Billy Crudup) at her home after the assassination. She imparts her story to the journalist to set the record straight about her life and her family's legacy. She is extremely controlling during the interview, telling the reporter what he can and can't write about her (even at one point saying she doesn't smoke while smoking a cigarette). The film flashes back and forth between the interview and the days after the assassination, focusing on Jackie's grieving. After showing the initial events after the assassination, Jackie tries to stave off a nervous breakdown while grappling with what her life means without her husband. Without him, she almost feels like her life is a waste. To handle this, she becomes obsessed with building the Camelot myth around the Kennedy family. She wants the Kennedys to be remembered as a grand, romantic family with a good legacy. She accomplishes this in part by planning a grand funeral for her husband against the wishes of the secret service, who desire a more modest ceremony for safety reasons.
I have no doubt that Jackie was instrumental in building the mythology around JFK, and it's not a stretch to believe that she wanted to validate her own life in some way by doing this. Finally, she must have went through some kind of PTSD after the assassination. But the film attempts to show all of these things in ways that are indulgent, exploitative, and melodramatic. Take a scene where Jackie listens to Richard Burton's performance of Camelot while trying on various stylish dresses she had worn in the White House, all while sobbing hysterically. Or a scene where she admits to a priest that she might have planned all of the pomp and circumstance during the funeral to make her feel good about herself. These scenes feel like they came out of a National Enquirer article rather than a decent biography. Just five minutes of research will show that Jackie didn't even plan the funeral it was planned by Robert Sargent Shriver. This film is all about mood, not accuracy. Needless to say, Jackie's vanity in this film is probably a tad bit exaggerated, and I question the veracity of pretty much every scene in the film.
These flaws may have been somewhat forgivable if I felt like the character Jackie really came to life at any point, but I don't think she did. Using the interview as the framing device was a bit clumsy, and it's one of the many elements that really prevented me from being fully absorbed in the film. While the film is clearly trying to make points about Jackie's character, I feel like I'm being told about them. I don't feel them. But the cold distance between Jackie and the audience is partially because of Natalie Portman's performance. While her performance has been praised left and right, I found it to be overly rehearsed, almost mimicry. In a good biopic, there has to come a moment where the actor becomes the historical figure, and I don't think that happened here. I could say the same for the film's second largest part, Robert Kennedy. Peter Sarsgaard does not look or sound a thing like RFK.
The movie isn't all bad. For all the flak I've given Portman, her performance is good overall, just not as good as her Black Swan performance in my opinion. The director Pablo Larrain uses close ups very effectively (in some of Portman's best moments), and he seamlessly blends archival footage with reenactments. There is a scene where Jackie looks out the window of the limousine at her husband's funeral, and the reflections of the people watching the funeral motorcade on the window looked an awful lot like archival footage to me. Real archival footage or not, it was an impressive effect. The score by Mica Levy is also haunting.
Jackie was a pretty disappointing experience for me. It's more like an exercise in artistic filmmaking than a good story. Ideally you get both from a film. Not so here. I would wait for video if you want to see this film.