SINGAPORE: It was almost too obvious, a given even, once the audience was treated to the first glimpse of Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in the trailer of Pablo Larrain’s Jackie. At that point, we had not watched the film but it seemed obvious - this was an award-worthy performance.
Portman won her Best Actress Oscar for Black Swan back in 2010, and deservingly so. But stepping into the well-heeled shoes of the legendary former First Lady, Portman’s stunning performance exceeds that award-sweeping role.
Chilean director Larrain’s unconventional yet intimate biopic Jackie, produced by Black Swan’s Darren Aronofsky and working off writer Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay, covers one of the most significant moments in American history - the assassination of President John F Kennedy and the effect it had on his traumatised widow in the face of a still-marching government and a shocked and grieving nation.
So how did they manage to breathe new life into the well-known Kennedy legend and the infinitely fascinating historical figures of Jackie and her Jack? A legend that has been rehashed in book and on screens both big and small so many times before?
By giving Portman the latitude to work her way through the different layers of this enigmatic and mysterious woman.
History made Jackie an international icon, but Portman’s willingness to go beyond the famous Chanel suits and plunder deep under her beautiful skin invites one to witness a selection of perspectives never fully explored before.
With mesmerising delivery, Portman swings from a drinking, chain-smoking grieving widow on the edge of a nervous breakdown to a ferocious resourceful and coldly calculating First Lady in full control of her husband’s image and legacy. And then just as easily from protective mother of two, resentful at God for taking her husband so abruptly, to shrewd manipulator of the media.
It is this very range of emotion, coupled with uncanny accuracy in capturing Jackie’s mannerisms, peculiarities and accent, that arguably makes this Portman’s career-defining performance
Compellingly invasive scenes, such as the one where Portman wipes her husband’s blood off her face or rips off her bloodied stockings after the assassination, make one believe that it might not be such a surprise if she manages to snatch the Oscar from under the nose of La La Land’s Emma Stone.
Portman dominates the screen as Jackie - vulnerable, determined, poised and broken all at once, proving that it is possible to go big while remaining subtle when playing an icon.
The film scores extra points for casting the underrated Peter Sarsgaard as Robert F Kennedy (although he does not look or sound anything like the real thing) and the quietly superb John Hurt (who died last month) as the family priest.
But in the end, as wonderfully supportive as the secondary cast is, it is Portman’s show, through and through. She is, without a doubt, the First Lady of all Jacqueline Kennedy portrayals.
Genevieve Loh's rating: 3.5/5