Director: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Cinematographer: Stéphane Fontaine
Producer: Juan de Dios Larraín, Darren Aronofsky, Mickey Liddell, Scott Franklin, and Ari Handel
by Jon Cvack
I’ve been anxious to check out Jackie since discovering it was directed by Pablo Larraín, who made No (2012) four years earlier; another historical drama in which an ad man gets involved on the 1988 Chilean plebiscite, deciding whether or not dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years. While the story itself was engaging enough, it was the photography that etched the film into memory, shot entirely on old video news cameras that made it look as though I was watching a film that was shot during the period.
Jackie is shot with comparable complement, utilizing Super 16mm film to match the actual footage from the period, along with breathtaking set design from Jean Rabasse that looked like they somehow gained access to the actual White House and all its amenities. The film takes place from the moment JFK was shot, all the way up through one of the first interviews Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) gave about the horrific event, including the physical transition from Kennedy’s administration and into LBJ’s; providing an intimate look into Jacqueline’s determination to handle the situation as best she could.
From the interview, the story begins with Jacqueline on the plane, covered in blood, as LBJ (John Carroll Lynch) is being sworn in. John Carroll has large boots to fill after both Bryan Cranston in HBO's All the Way and particularly Michael Gambon’s brilliant performance in HBO's other LBJ bio-pic Path to War (from my count, LBJ has been portrayed in five films, as of 2019). However, counter to those films, we receive a more superficial look at the man who unfortunately is portrayed as at least mildly excited for the position, offering little in the way of empathy for the Kennedy’s grief.
The film moves on to follow Jacqueline as she works with Bob Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) to make the funeral arrangements, with Jacqueline determined to provide her husband the grandest procession the country has ever seen, going so far as to have an assistant research Lincoln’s funeral, which included Heads of State from the world over, all led by horse drawn hearse down the eight blocks to Arlington Cemetery. Though when Lee Harvey Oswald is suddenly assassinated, the LBJ administration cautions her about security, advising against the Kennedy’s walking such a relatively long distance. We watch as Jackie drifts between melancholy and madness, seemingly incapable of making a decision without second guessing herself and forcing everyone to change the plans.
What the film does so well is take an objective look at the woman and what it means to be a Kennedy. As I’ve mentioned before - most recently in Street Fight (2005) - what I find most interesting about politicians, and especially the presidency, is the expansive ego it demands; in which the candidate has to believe that they are the one who can lead an entire nation against the vast challenges it faces. In the modern era, and matters of seniority aside, a person is not often chosen to be president so much as possesses the faith they could be. Working in entertainment where egos run sky high - and for things which do not matter in any comparable way - I have trouble grasping the idea of someone thinking they can guide the country in the correct direction; that their ideas are the ones the people should vote for.
Given the increasingly expensive cost to run, it often demands that the individual comes from wealth; with only a fraction having come from more modest means (I highly recommend reading McCullough’s "Truman" to gain insight into a modern example of how things use to be). The Kennedy wealth, stemming from Joseph P. Kenny, Sr., came from banking and investments, some originating in bootlegging and others arguing insider trading (back when the SEC, in its lenient stage, was far more lenient). Currently, there’s yet another Kennedy serving in congress - 36 year old Joe Kennedy III, who’s allegedly inherited between $15-55 million. While I agree with much of the man’s politics, there’s something I find gross about the Kennedy dynasty; the way I find both the Bush and burgeoning Clinton dynasties gross. In a country that was founded on the principle of all people being created equal, families of this sort, with their vast wealth and name recognition, make it increasingly difficult for the average person to reach higher office.
Continue to Part 2...
BELOW: Probably one of the top ten accents ever designed
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