Pablo Larraín's Jackie is a dirge. Focusing on First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) in the days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), the film presents a non-linear account of Jackie's fluctuating emotional state. As played by Portman, Jackie is alternately defiant, typically in the faces of the many powerful men who surround her, and then privately despondent and shattered, only in the presence of her close friend, Nancy (Greta Gerwig), or in the little time she has to herself. Portman vanishes into the role, despite the closeness of her and Jackie's beauty.
An interview that takes place a few days after the assassination gives the film a loose structure. Jackie recounts her memories to a skeptical reporter (Billy Crudup) who knows he will likely be unable to print anything Jackie says. Fully conscious of her well-scrubbed public image, Jackie bucks at the reporter, determinedly giving her unvarnished, bitter take on the past week's events, which we see play out. Early on the reporter asks what he should expect from Jackie, and she says, practically to the camera, "Only my side of the story."
Jackie is a tonic to the parade of media that Kennedy's death is generated over the past 50 odd years. It is stubbornly focused on relaying the story strictly from Jackie's point of view, with the camera hovering only a few feet from Portman's head at a given moment. Larraín, working from a script by Noah Oppenheim, has told true stories in the past—his last film was No, about the campaign to sway public opinion against Augustín Pinochet—but his films tend to focus on men. And although this film narrowly passes the Bechdel test, it is very much Jackie's story.
This isn't a survey of the political climate of the country, so the insights the film has to offer aren't so broad. But it is terribly important that we see priority given to an iconic figure whose voice is muted by the noise around her husband's death. It's significant that Jackie asks for details about the caliber of the bullet that struck Kennedy. Her question seems so specific and ill-timed, but the bafflement of the men around her show just how much they underestimate her. She wants answers understandably, and all they can think about is swearing in the next president.
Perhaps even more integral to the film's somber tone is the score by Mica Levi, who knows something about a woman's perspective when the world feels completely alien (Under the Skin). The music is distinguished by funereal strings that drone beneath hopeful flickers of woodwinds. It is a motif that recurs frequently, as if to underscore the ever-present dread Jackie feels at the world she now lives in. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a portrait of the bubbly trend-setting trophy First Lady you've come to know: Jackie wears mourning black most of the film.