Movie Review: ‘Jackie’
That a United States president’s administration should be remembered in light of a hit Broadway musical either says a lot about the sway of Broadway musicals over the American public, or the power of American politics myth-making.
While it’s uncertain if “Hamilton,” which had its “tryout” way out of town (as in the White House Rose Garden), will attach itself to a particular administration, “Camelot” attached itself to the President John F. Kennedy administration.
Or rather, Jackie Kennedy, as then grieving First Lady, attached the Kennedy administration to “Camelot.”
That’s the premise of “Jackie.” But the film explores so much more.
The distance between the myth and reality of President Kennedy is well-known, as it is with many occupants of the White House Oval Office. Kennedy’s exhortations to the American public (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” from his Jan. 20, 1961 inaugural address) seem of a different time. It all came crashing down with the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald.
What “Jackie” concentrates on, and does so very well, is the days after the assassination when, if it can be believed as the screenplay recounts, the Kennedy Administration “Camelot” was manufactured by Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, with the implicit and complicit cooperation of Theodore H. White, who wrote about the myth for Life magazine.
Apparently, JFK liked to sit around the White House, listening to Richard Burton’s Sprechgesang version of “Camelot” from the 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical, notably the lyric: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”
“You make him sound like royalty,” Jackie is told. Indeed, Jackie burnished the image and provided the legacy, with the Kennedy Administration compared to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
“Jackie” is powered by its careful documentary-style, impressionistic elements and an astounding seeming true-to-life, and what should be certain Oscar actress nominee performance and strong front-runner performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie.
Portman (Oscar, actress, “Black Swan,” 2010) “is” Jackie. While her arms appear to be shorter and her stature less statuesque, “Jackie” Director Pablo Larraín (“Neruda,” 2017: “The Club,” 2015) keeps the camera in tight and close and angled to capture Portman’s large, expressive eyes, lips of troubled consternation and a stoicism and that has to be stoked by her aide de camp (a fine Greta Gerwig) for Jackie’s Emmy-winning “A Tour of the White House” (1962) television broadcast (the reality TV of its day) seen by some 80 million viewers (In comparison, the Beatles’ first 1964 “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance was seen by 73.7 million.)
“Jackie” uses an effective series of flashbacks to tell its story, mixing supersaturated color scenes with recreations of the black and white TV show White House tour footage.
The 1963 interview scenes between Jackie and the interviewer (Billy Crudup), said to be based on Theodore White, at Hyannis Port, Mass., are fascinating for their balletic contretemps. “So, this will be your own version of what happened,” Jackie is asked. The ground rules are clear from the outset.
It wasn’t just the apparently historically-accurate makeover of the White House, the lavish state dinners, the concerts by the likes of Pablo Casals that secured Jackie Kennedy’s ownership of her role as First Lady and arguably became the gold standard for her successors. There was something more. And that had to do with her stage-managing, or directing of the eight-block JFK funeral procession.
The graphic detail of the Dealey Plaza Dallas, Tex., assassination of JFK is graphic, perhaps too much so, even through we understand the director wants to convey the sheer shock and horror of what Jackie Kennedy experienced.
There’s a sympathetic portrayal of Robert Kennedy (a great Peter Sarsgaard), apparently at Jackie’s side throughout.
Caspar Phillipson as JFK is eerily close in resemblance. Scenes with a priest (John Hurt) present the belief context, or lack thereof, for Jackie.
The production design and art direction in the use of cars, interior design, furniture, clothes and hairstyles of the era, is impeccable. Jackie’s pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat are indelible.
Director Larraín uses metaphorical devices to tell, or hint at, the larger story: the breathy voice similarity between Jackie and Marilyn Monroe, the reference to the Monroe Room, the birthday cake presentation to John-John, who naively wears a holster and a toy gun.
Composer Mica Levi’s film score is emotionally chilling and adds to the sense of displacement and loss.
Jackie Kennedy, in the hands of Larrain, screenwriter Noah Oppenheim, director of photography Stéphane Fontaine, production designer Jean Rabasse, costume designer Madeline Fontaine, and Portman, doesn’t come off as particular likable. And yet, why are you crying at least halfway through and on to the end of the film? Talk about “Profiles in Courage.” Jackie Kennedy was one strong, brassy, capable and bright woman, fierce in her determination to protect the memory of a man who she apparently knew betrayed her many times over, but who “always came home to the family.”
“Jackie” is no mere portrayal of the “behind every great man” shibboleth. Rather, it is a consideration of a time, of a place, and of a mood, now seemingly so long ago, pre reality TV, pre Twitter-verse and social media contracts, when there, in retrospect, did, indeed, seem to exist a powerful, elegant and intelligent presidential administration that, for however many actual flaws, “for one brief shining moment” (actually two years, 10 months and two days for the Kennedy administration) seems to have outshone all who went before and followed after.
Such is the myth of the Kennedy Administration as “Camelot.” Such is the stuff of “Jackie,” a must-see for Baby Boomers and others who lived through it, and also for those who need to be aware of this fascinating, important and tragic chapter in American history.
“Jackie,”MPAA rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for brief strong violence and some language; Genre: Biography, Drama; Run Time: 1 hr., 40 min.; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous:“Jackie” was filmed in Washington, D.C., and Studios de Paris, La Cite du Cinema, Paris, France.
Box Office Dec. 30: Box office results for the Dec. 30 weekend were not available at deadline for the Focus section because of the New Year’s weekend.
Box Office,Dec. 23: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” continued at No. 2 over the three-day Christmas holiday weekend for two weeks in a row with $96.1 million, $318.1 million, two weeks, keeping “Sing” opening at No. 2, with $54,9 million, weekend, $75.5 million, since opening, one week; “Passengers” opening at No. 3, $22.6 million, weekend, $30 million, since opening, one week, “Why Him?” opening at No. 4, with $15.5 million, one week, and “Assassin’s Creed” opening at No. 5, with $14.8 million, weekend, and $22.2 million, since opening, one week;
6. “Moana,” $12.5 million, $185.5 million, five weeks; 7. “Fences.” $11.6 million, $11.7 million, two weeks; 8. “La La Land,” $9.2 million, $17.1 million, three weeks; 9. “Office Christmas Party,” $7 million, $44 million, three weeks; 10. “Collateral Beauty,” $6.3 million, $17.1 million, two weeks.
“Underworld: Blood Wars,”R: Anna Foerster directs Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies and Lara Pulver in the horror film about a vampire death dealer, Selene (Beckinsale), who fights to end an eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.
“Amityville: The Awakening,”PG-13: Franck Khalfoun directs Jennifer Jason Leigh, Cameron Monaghan, Bella Thorne and Jennifer Morrison in the horror film about a single mother who moves with her three children into a haunted house, unaware of its history.
“A Monster Calls,”PG-13: J.A. Bayona directs Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson in the fantasy film about a boy who seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.
Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes