Many, many magazine articles and books have been published about Jackie Kennedy --- and numerous movies made, as well. Director Pablo Larrain and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim have chosen to focus on the part of Jackie's (Natalie Portman) complicated life immediately following President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas in 1963.
Utilizing Theodore H. White's (Billy Crudup) "Life" magazine interview with the young widow, "Jackie" is told mostly in flashbacks as White attempts to elicit the truth about Jackie's time as First Lady, and the emotional fallout she experienced regarding her husband's violent death. White arrives at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts to speak with Jackie and, for those of us who lived through this horrific period, we are quickly transported back in time.
It was November 22nd and a warm sunny day in Dallas, as Jack and Jackie Kennedy travel through the city in a convertible waving to the crowds, when shots rang out and Jack slumped against Jackie with a mortal wound to his head. "Jackie" illustrates Mrs. Kennedy's grace under immense pressure and her fierce determination to have her husband buried in the manner she deemed fit for a man of his stature.
Portman is absolutely divine. She studied Jackie intensely and worked very hard to capture her manner of speech. I met Ms. Portman and she confirmed my suspicion that portraying someone as legendary as Jackie Kennedy was, indeed, terrifying. But we never get that sense watching her. Portman plays this icon effortlessly, with heart-wrenching results.
The scene of Jackie turning on Jack's old Victrola and playing the original song "Camelot" sung by Richard Burton from the 1960 Broadway musical while she drinks wine and floats through their White House rooms in a daze is as heartbreaking a sequence as any I've seen. Jackie changes her exquisite gowns and jewelry, wandering around --- alone and bereft. For just these moments, Portman deserves an Oscar nom.
But there are many others, and Larrain and his crew do a marvelous job of integrating new shots of Portman during the funeral procession with actual footage of the real Jackie Kennedy from that very sad day. The editing by Sebastian Sepulveda is seamless and superb. Especially in a film such as this, the editing is paramount to the story and the successful outcome of the project.
The rest of the cast, including Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Jackie's secretary Nancy Tuckerman and John Hurt as Father Richard McSorley, are equally well chosen. "Jackie" is a smaller, quieter movie and none of these actors overplay their pivotal parts.
Throughout "Jackie" we are treated to Larrain's re-creation of Jackie Kennedy's 1962 televised White House tour to the American public. Close Kennedy confidante, Bill Walton (Richard E. Grant), helped Jackie redecorate the Oval Office and other areas of the grand home. In one scene, Jackie admires the new carpeting in the President's office which Bill explains he had installed while they were in Dallas.
And one of the last shots of the film has Jackie locking eyes with Bill as she and the children make their final departure from the White House. Bill is engaged with Lady Bird Johnson (Beth Grant), looking at fabric, when he catches Jackie's eye. The look between them says it all --- such a poignant, memorable glance for a beautifully memorable film.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
From the moment she utters her first words, we know Natalie Portman has transposed herself into the world of Jacquelyn Bouvier Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of her husband's assassination.
It's an extraordinary performance providing an eerie flashback to an event from 53 years ago that devastated a nation and shocked the world.
The lurid details of John F. Kennedy's slaying in 1963 are primarily told in Jackie's interview with a journalist, played expertly by Billy Crudup. But Chilean director Pablo Larrain ultimately chooses to stage the brutal scene in the back of the President's car in the Dallas motorcade. Seeing this startling re-creation of the instant the bullets struck JFK's skull is almost beyond belief.
For part of the film, Jackie wears the blood-stained pink suit from that day, her smoldering rage and feelings of helplessness accompanied by the ever-present cigarette. Jackie must deal with explaining to her young children, John Jr. (played by twins Aiden and Brody Weinberg) and Caroline (Sunnie Pelant) why their daddy will not be coming home.
She helps in the transfer of personal belongings as Lyndon Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) prepares to move into the Oval Office. At one point during her interview, the journalist asks how she feels about leaving the White House. "Every First Lady has to be ready to pack her suitcase", she says. "It's inevitable."
"Jackie" makes excellent use of real footage and TV coverage of the days following the shooting, including the infamous murder on live television of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Larrain also inserts Portman into the White House TV tour Jackie gave to the nation in 1962, all in black-and-white, of course, before color TV was the norm.
Portman movingly displays equal parts anger and sorrow, whether scolding her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), talking to her close confidante and secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Great Gerwig), or speaking with her priest (John Hurt). But "Jackie" the movie has a mix of casting choices that are both curious and genius.
On the questionable side there is Sarsgaard. He neither resembles Bobby Kennedy nor simulates his thick New England accent. I frequently complain about actors who overdo the Boston accent to ridiculous, even distracting proportions, but Sarsgaard barely utilizes it as a tool. And Lynch bears no likeness to Lyndon Johnson, although his role is a minor one.
On the plus side, Caspar Phillipson plays JFK --- an eerie resemblance with voice to match. And Beth Grant is a dead ringer for Lady Bird Johnson. She has little to say in Noah Oppenheim's screenplay, but that doesn't matter. We're simply enthralled with her look.
Portman's turn in "Jackie" may end up to be the defining one of her career, even though she's only thirty-five. The more the film moves along, the more convincing she becomes. The movie's somber mood is exacerbated by Jackie never smiling except in flashbacks to better times. Whether dancing at a White House party with husband Jack, or seated front and center at a private concert by Pablo Casals, these happy memories intrude upon Jackie's utter despair, and her conflicted feelings about how to proceed with the funeral arrangements.
Jack's favorite musical was "Camelot", a new Lerner and Loewe production at the time in 1960, that has a prominent role in this film. In a "Life" magazine article in 1963, soon after the assassination, Jackie quoted this line from the musical: "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot".
Opinion: Strong See It Now!