Natalie Portman gives a landmark performance as Jackie Kennedy in the film “Jackie,” astutely directed by Pablo Larrain and looking at the then first lady when she suddenly isn’t that anymore. After Kennedy is killed beside her in Dallas, her world suddenly changes and the film concentrates on how she attempts to cope right after the tragedy. This is a view of Jackie Kennedy different than any we have previously seen.
For Jackie, quickly confronted with Lyndon Johnson sworn in as President and Lady Bird taking over her role, Jackie not only has to deal with the trauma of losing her husband, but with the new dynamics and those who attempt to tell her what to do.
She rails at one point against her brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) for trying to order her about as well as comfort her. Johnson’s aide Jack Valenti (Max Casella) has his ideas of what she should or should not do. An issue is whether she should walk in the cortege carrying Jack’s body, supposedly dangerous for security reasons. She is determined to walk. We also see how she deals with telling the children what happened.
Portman faced the problem of how to act the role of Jackie without turning her into just an icon or worse, a caricature. There is a re-staging of the first lady’s famous television tour of the White House. At the time some made fun of her high-pitched, wispy voice but Portman gets it just right and makes Jackie very human, as she does throughout.
The film has its extremely emotional moments, which add up to a sympathetic take on the first lady and the creation of the Camelot legend associated with Kennedy’s administration.
There is a sophisticated screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, and it would seem that the story line relied on inspiration from a famous interview that writer Theodore White did with Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination for Life Magazine. The hook on which the film hangs is a journalistic interview by a reporter, exceedingly well played by Billy Crudup, with Jackie in the family home in Hyannis Port.
As the conversation unfolds, there is toughness and protectiveness that emanates from Jackie as she exercises the control she was promised over what can be used from the interview.
A moving section of the film contains conversations between Jackie and a priest, played with understanding and wisdom by John Hurt. It is an attempt to find spiritual solace in the wake of the tragedy.
Among the acting contributions are fine performances by Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman, Jackie’s aide, John Carroll Lynch as Lyndon Johnson, Beth Grant as Lady Bird and in flashback Caspar Philipson as JFK. Past clips are expertly woven into the narrative.
“Jackie” is a superb film that does justice to the former first lady, with Portman giving what surely is an award-caliber performance to be remembered. A Fox Searchlight release. Reviewed December 2, 2016.