Chris Miller and Phil Lord adapt Erik Larson’s book of the same name, which investigates the Kennedy assassination from three different perspectives. The film opens on John F Kennedy Jr as a promising politician, his handsome good looks fueling his chance at power; it moves forward to the tense assassination of his father, as Jackie is being transported to Dallas; and finally closes on Jack Kennedys as an unknown politician, just days before his fatal motorcade.
Phil Lord is also directing, having last helmed the shrewd This Is the End. Filmed in multiple states around the country, Passing cleverly intercuts different visuals of past assassinations and assassinations of the present; the filmmaking is spare and focused, unlike films like The Revenant and A Quiet Place. The cold, clear blue skies of Buffalo, New York are used to great effect to depict JFK Jr’s death on July 17, 1999, as we see the fatal shot in slow motion, all about how certain moments in time affect and transport us.
Jackie’s death soon follows and she becomes a compelling personage for us to be curious about, for she became a symbol in many ways: a symbol of national grief and loss, as she followed her husband from New York to Dallas in his open casket on a cold November day. What Hitchcock alludes to in Rebecca is now embodied in First Lady Jackie O, as a role defined by her handling of national mourning. Long white gloves and armfuls of flowers somehow manages to frame such moments as those from the assassination, indicating Jackie’s modesty and concern for her father-in-law; the film is at times quite interesting to contemplate her nuanced approach to the dark days.
The biggest problem with Passing, however, is that this stolid acting outweighs the fascinating writing. Abigail Breslin plays Jackie with a serious, seductive sensitivity that shows every little twinkle in her eye; Lauren Cohan is captivating as Lee Harvey Oswald, a young man who ran a licensed limousine service that transports VIPs and leads to his grisly end; and Gerard Butler commits to every crazy wide grin as a ruggedly handsome Texas Ranger in pursuit of Oswald and prepares to turn up at the wrong place at the wrong time, both certainly interesting, but as an unlikely counterpoint to the rest of the film, it’s sometimes hard to remember what we’re watching.
Moreover, the information they have sourced is hard to keep track of and could have easily been amalgamated together in a different fashion, as Flatliners did, making the assassination aspects more provocative and affecting.