‘Jackie’ is an enigma caught inside another enigma, that of the eponymous John F. Kennedy. This is a historical biopic that offers to shine a light on his wife’s Camelot years and reveal the human being within and yet it doesn’t. And there are reasons.
As in real life and in fiction both Jackie the person and ‘Jackie’ the film don’t want to reveal anything and yet both quietly crave a recognition that will validate their positions. Part modern-day princess, part figure of stoicism, Jackie flits between intention and insight and yet ultimately withdraws to a private version of the truth, where both neither the film nor the character reveal anything beyond what you might have initially taken into the cinema. And this is a limitation because there is much to admire here.
…a regal splendour you are invited to admire but only at arm’s length.
The attention to detail, the faithfulness of the period setting and careful casting all reflect an earnest intention as mirrored in Billy Crudup’s performance as Jackie’s interviewer. However like the strings of the occasional score, which hark at a sorrow that the film strains you to feel, any insight or commentary is rebuffed, which ultimately undermines the effort and seriousness that Natalie Portman brings to the titular role. Stymied at Jackie’s refusal for full disclosure and with only measured candour, ‘Jackie’ hamstrings what would otherwise been another great addition to Portman’s growing list of serious acting credits.
In the end ’Jackie’ is as fractured as the history of her husband’s life. It is a collection of scenes which while earnestly played, none more so than with John Hurt (in typical, lucid, scene stealing form), yet still fail to come together as an insightful whole. In the end we are left with what Jackie Kennedy intended; intimacy at a distance, a regal splendour you are invited to admire but only at arm’s length.