“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot. There’ll be great presidents again… but there will never be another Camelot.”
– Jackie Kennedy, 1963
There’s arguably never been a first lady like Jackie Kennedy. Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born on July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York. After marrying John F. Kennedy, her life would reach dizzying heights and devastating lows. A camera-ready couple for the new television age, the Kennedys brought youth, style, and a unique emphasis on the arts to the White House. It was their own “Camelot,” as JFK had envisioned it, but tragedy cut it short.
If you’re under the age of 50 or so and don’t recall watching much footage of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, you might first find Natalie Portman’s portrayal as oddly robotic, stiff, and slightly bizarre. Her speaking style and mannerisms are so eccentric, it’s easy to dismiss Portman’s portrayal as a caricature. But after watching Jackie I watched more of Jackie, or “Mrs. John F. Kennedy” as they called her during her famous televised tour of the White House in 1961, which gets re-enacted quite well during the film. Turns out Portman’s impersonation is pretty good. She does seem to add a little bit more breathiness than the real Jackie, but there’s no denying that this was a woman with a very distinct style. A good impression would have to seem quirky in 2017.
Jackie isn’t a biopic that seeks to tell you much about the woman herself, but instead how she handled an incredibly difficult event—the murder of her husband—and the immediate aftermath. It’s an impressionistic character study that’s heavy on grief, yet unfortunately, it comes up short on emotion.
The film follows the days before and after JFK’s assassination, but also frequently cuts back to a contentious, post-assassination interview Jackie gave to LIFE Magazine’s Theodore H. White at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. It’s an editing technique that doesn’t serve the film well, as momentum is frequently lost when we’re whisked back to the interview.
Even more distracting than the cutaways? The Oscar-nominated score. At times it sounds like it was created for a psychological horror film. The composer herself, Mica Levi, says she was surprised director Pablo Larraín turned it up as much as he did, so it seems half of the blame can go to him on this one. In fact, it was Levi’s first film, Under the Skin, that Larrain noticed and admired, but this score seems much more suited for that film than Jackie. Combine that music with the numerous lingering tight close-ups and it’s a little bit unnerving.
It’s clear a great deal of effort and polish went into the film. The supporting cast is solid. The visual effects look excellent. Portman’s portrayal is slightly strange but also strangely magnetic. I think because the JFK assassination has been so overdone throughout the years, we have a tendency to minimize the human suffering that went along with it. But to the film’s credit, by the third act, I did indeed find myself misty-eyed, feeling like I was finally able to empathize with this woman and everything she was going through.
But it never adds up to anything special. Perhaps, I suspect, that’s simply because trying to capture this particular woman’s emotions is such a tall task.
Movie Score: 5.5 out of 10
Audio & Video
Within the first few minutes of Jackie, I was making sure I hadn’t slipped in the DVD version of the film and not the Blu-ray. Obviously Larrain was going for a vintage look here. The colors are muted and there’s a grainy, 60s-era look to most of the film which comes at the cost of clarity and contrast. This is not a disc that wears its 1080p badge proudly.
On the audio front, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is rarely asked to impress, but the dialogue is clear. At times the score really blares at you, distractingly so.
A/V Score: 5.0
Packaging, Menus, & Special Features
Major kudos must go to whoever created this cover art and slipcase because it is one of the most attractive I’ve ever seen. The deep shades of red are gorgeous, and the cover even feels nice, with a matte finish all over except for a smoothed over photo on the back. The cover also opens up via Velcro to reveal a wide shot of a scene from the film. Very nicely done.
Inside the case, you’ll find the Blu-ray, DVD, and an insert sheet to redeem the digital copy.
The menu shows multiple clips from the movie, so I’d press Play quickly when it comes up.
The special features are pretty basic, with a solid 22-minute featurette on the making of the movie, photo gallery, theatrical trailer, and sneak peeks of other films. An audio commentary with Larrain and Portman is available only on the digital copy. I’d like to have seen more about Jackie Kennedy on the disc, at the very least so I could immediately compare her to Portman’s impression.
Extras Score: 6.0
While Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie is dedicated and compelling to watch, it’s also somewhat off-putting. Is that inherent to the woman she’s portraying? Maybe. But with a distracting score, muted video quality, and some questionable editing decisions, Jackie never rises to its Camelot aspirations.
Overall Score: 5.5