Jackie (R) ★★★½

Natalie Portman stars in “Jackie.” Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Portman Brings Jackie to Life

The Kennedy family was nicknamed “America’s First Family” and there has been no shortage of interest in them over the years. America’s obsession with the Kennedy’s has inspired countless books, movies and TV specials depicting the family’s triumphs, tragedies, and scandals, but few have solely focused on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or as most refer to her, “Jackie O.” One of the most beloved first ladies was often overshadowed by her husband and his brothers, however, in the new drama, Jackie, the famous first lady takes center stage, and we see the rise and tragic ending of the Kennedy White House through her eyes and words.

The primary setting of the film takes place just over a week after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy (‘JFK’). While still mourning the loss of her husband, Jackie (Natalie Portman, Jane Got a Gun, 2016) surprisingly requested to do an interview with Theodore ‘Ted’ White (Billy Crudup, Spotlight, 2015), a reporter from Life magazine at the Kennedy’s compound in Hyannis Port, MA. Through the narrative framework of Ted and Jackie’s Q&A, the audience is taken back to her time at the White House through extended flashbacks as Jackie discusses her fondest memories. Director Pablo Larrain truly brings this tragic, intriguing and long overdue perspective to life with Portman at the forefront.

The first flashback captures Jackie’s famous TV special, in which she gave millions of American viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the White House and discussed her plans to renovate yet maintain its abundant history. While still in her early 30’s and seemingly nervous to be on camera, it’s clear that Jackie was keenly aware of the influential role she could play in defining her husband’s legacy in the White House. Jackie brings up happy memories of raising their young family at the White House and the social events as head of state, including an in-person concert of Camelot. Tragically, these idyllic memories are shattered by the events in Dallas just a few days prior.

As the interview transitions to the death of her husband, Jackie walks Ted through the horrific day in Dallas – from the ride in the limo to the race to the hospital. While still wearing the iconic blood-spattered pink suit from the attack, Jackie must face the sudden transition from First Lady to mourning widow. She even witnesses, first-hand, the swearing in of her husband’s vice president, Lyndon Johnson (John Carrol Lynch, The Founder, 2016). As Jackie struggles with the loss, she must draw on her inner strength to give her beloved husband the proper memorial that suits his legacy while also coming to terms with her new life as a young widowed mother of two, in front of millions of Americans at that.

Larrain’s direction is well done as he brings to life one of the most beloved first ladies who audiences all recognize, but know little about. What makes his job look easy is Portman’s acting. Jackie’s fashionable presence, coy persona and trademark voice are spot on. Portman expertly weaves in the sadness and anger that Jackie harbors with the strength and defiant resolve she shows to defend her and her husband’s legacy. Portman, who conducted extensive research on Jackie, will certainly be a strong Oscar contender with this performance, which would be her second award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (won for Black Swan in 2010). Peter Saarsgard (The Magnificent Seven, 2016) also has a notable performance as Robert Kennedy, the attorney general who’s dealing with the shocking death of his brother while helping console his sister-in-law and somehow maintaining professionalism. Caspar Phillipson, a Danish actor making his American film debut, plays JFK (who does resemble the president), but is given very few lines. He’s more of a background character as this is first and foremost Jackie’s story. Billy Crudup has a memorable role as ‘Ted’ and is continuing to prove himself as a strong supporting character as he also showed in Spotlight (2015) and 20th Century Women (2016).

While the acting, costumes, sets, and cinematography were all strong, the weak point of the film is the lack of suspense. The audience knows how this story ultimately ends and although the behind-the-scenes perspective of Jackie is probably not as well known, the absence of surprise may make it less entertaining to viewers. Still, with its efficient running time of 99 minutes, this movie is worth a watch for Portman’s performance alone.

Bottom Line:  Natalie Portman is undoubtedly an Oscar contender for her lead role in the drama, Jackie. Director Pablo Larrain truly brings this tragic, intriguing and long overdue perspective to life. It certainly gets my vote.

Credits: Directed by Pablo Larrain; Written by Noah Oppenheim

Cast: Natalie Portman (Jackie Kennedy), Peter Saarsgard (Robert Kennedy), Caspar Phillipson (John F. Kennedy), Greta Gerwig (Nancy Tuckerman), Billy Crudup (Theodore White), Max Casella (Jack Valenti), Beth Grant (Lady Bird Johnson), John Carrol Lynch (Lyndon Johnson)

Studio: Fox Searchlight

Running Time: 99 minutes

Jessica Aymond © December 28, 2016