JFK was the first president in what has become an irrepressable era of media involvement in our American life. Notably winning the first televised debate against Nixon in the opinion of viewers, while losing said debate in the opinion of those who listened on the radio. Image had begun to press ahead of substance at a pace that even now feels unsettling, inevitable and often dangerous.
JACKIE places the viewer in intimate proximity to the moment when the innocence, expectation and potential of this nation is corrupted, dashed and all but annihilated, and all through the portrayl of the first lady by Natalie Portman, while she attempts to navigate the days after the assassination. Never before had the White House been truly as public as when the Kennedy’s were there, and her presence was the reason. She had been a journalist and had a strong understanding of the power of image and perspective. The film confronts this head-on and unflinchingly, and in honor of the time and events it depicts, it plays as a dirge.
Portman inhabits the role without characaturing, and the cinematography and direction allow her to become Jackie by keeping the viewer’s focus central without drowning us in her visage. The performances of Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman (Jackie’s longtime friend), offer Portman strong, if understated, performances to bolster her own. Sarsgaard gives a refreshingly realistic and unaccentuated turn as Jack’s brother and attorney general. Gerwig is a constant source of comfort as Nancy, and in the quiet of her performance she assures us, the viewer, that Jackie can and will take care of everything.
There are faults and a few inconsistancies, but such is life, and certainly our understanding of the past is fraught with them as well. The film presents a question that was very new in the the early 60’s and has become more fervent as most of us assume a semi-public life, with image and self-representation so constant: at what cost do we seek notoriety, and what are we willing to sacrifice for it.