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Jackie (Blu-ray Review)

10 Mar, 2017 By: John Latchem

Box Office $13.87 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated 'R' for brief strong violence and some language
Stars Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, John Carroll Lynch.

One of the fascinating aspects of governing at the highest levels is the way the mechanism of the state continues to churn despite whatever tragedies might befall the nation. Often, the need to demonstrate stability or affect an orderly transfer of power can easily overwhelm any understandable human reaction that might have otherwise have been hoped for among those ensnared in the upper echelons of power and public life, for whom any fantasies of a normal life are quickly dissipated. While a nation might mourn the death of a head of state, life still goes on for the average citizen, while the family and friends of a president or king must still deal with the grief of losing a loved one.

In that sense, Jackie shares a bit in common with Netflix’s “The Crown” in demonstrating that attempt to find the balance between private and public grief, and how much personal needs must be subverted for the bigger picture.

In “The Crown,” it was about Elizabeth II becoming queen after the death of her father, and the struggles of the British royal family to adhere to a ceremonial role that might just be superfluous as well. In Jackie, it’s the wife of a fallen president suddenly dealing with the legacy of her husband and an uncertain future in the wake of his loss.

Jackie mostly covers the week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, as Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) recalls the events in an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) a few days after the Kennedy funeral. This structure allows the narrative to jump in between different timeframes as Jackie recounts them in her attempts to make some sense of what has happened to her and find some meaning in it.

Crudup’s reporter is unnamed, but he’s clearly a stand-in for Life’s Theodore H. White, conducting the interview in which Jackie, inspired by the hit musical, compares her husband’s presidency to Camelot, crafting the popular notion that JFK’s White House was akin to the pomp of King Arthur’s court.

However, the film isn’t concerned about Kennedy’s legacy as much as it is Jackie’s strength of character in dealing with the adversities of marrying into a political family, accused of extravagance as First Lady, then finding herself widowed at age 34 with two small children and no solid financial foundation to fall back on.

Even before she can grasp what has happened, Jackie is trotted before the cameras for Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in on Air Force One, used as a political tool to demonstrate the legitimacy of the new president. Then she insists on a grand funeral styled after Abraham Lincoln’s, while other government officials would rather lay low lest any subversives take a shot at them, too, while they’re marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. The only real ally she has is Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), who himself bristles at the notion of how quickly the nation seems to be moving on from his brother with LBJ in charge.

Portman disappears into the persona of Jackie Kennedy, yet it’s hard not to see the impersonation in her performance during those scenes that call for her to imitate what Jackie did in archive footage. The primary example of this is the film’s re-creation of the famed Valentine’s Day 1962 televised White House tour.

For these scenes, Jackie director Pablo Larraín makes good use of an extensive network of White House sets built, according to the Blu-ray’s lone production featurette, on a soundstage in Paris, and shot in the same style of monochrome video, even blending some of the authentic footage as well when appropriate. (For what it’s worth, the original tour was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who a few years later would direct the original Planet of the Apes and win an Oscar for Patton.)

Minor distractions aside, Portman is nonetheless mesmerizing as she covers the stages of grief in the most public way possible. The cinematography infuses the film with a very retro look, which in conjunction with the non-linear editing gives the film a very dreamlike quality, a trait aided in no small part to the haunting musical score by Mica Levi, which earned one of the film’s three Oscar nominations (the costumes and Portman’s performance were the others). There are moments during the funeral sequence that almost feel like genuine newsreels.

The film also contains one of the last performances from the late John Hurt, as a priest who comforts Jackie after the funeral.

While the real-life story of Jackie Kennedy could fill a trove of bonus material, the Blu-ray includes only the 22-minute making-of featurette. It’s built around interviews with all the key filmmakers, and anyone who enjoyed the film should find it interesting enough.

Promotional materials also indicated an audio commentary with Portman and Larraín available with the Digital HD version of Jackie, but the only extra Vudu offers is the featurette, and the film’s iTunes page doesn’t list a commentary either.


About the Author: John Latchem

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