Natalie Portman is outstanding as JACKIE (2016), a new film about the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.
I've seen any number of Kennedy biopics over the years, and while some have been stronger than others, the viewer doesn't tend to forget that we're watching actors; they may look the role, but we are always conscious that they are simply shadows of the real people.
That isn't the case at all with JACKIE, where Portman so forcefully inhabits her part that the "acting" disappears. While I'm not sure her characterization matched my surface perceptions of Jacqueline Kennedy, she creates a fascinating, rounded character in a rich, substantive performance.
As a reporter (Billy Crudup) interviews Jackie shortly after her husband's death, the film smoothly moves backwards and forwards in time, contrasting Jackie's appearances giving the famous TV White House tour and hosting a concert by Pablo Casals with how she copes following the assassination. Whether in happier times or enduring tragedy, she stylishly crafts memorable events with images which have remained in the public consciousness for decades.
Portman's Jackie is a woman of paradoxes -- brittle yet gracious; a loving wife who acknowledges her marriage was not completely happy; a woman of faith who struggles to believe; a caring mother who spends considerable time away from her young children and who is questioned by some for not sheltering them from their father's funeral, as she wanted the public to see and understand what the family has lost.
Some may forget or perhaps be unaware that just three months prior to her husband's death, Jackie had experienced the death of her newborn son Patrick, the second of her four children to die, so she was reeling from a pair of losses in short succession in November 1963. And not only did she lose a husband and son, but her husband's death also meant she abruptly lost her position as First Lady.
As she grieves and plans the state ceremonies, she also tries to make sure life goes on happily for her children, celebrating her young son's birthday just three days after his father's death.
One might not think it's possible to look at the Kennedy story in a fresh way, but JACKIE manages to do so, which is quite a feat. It's a compelling, interesting film which runs a well-paced 100 minutes; incidentally, it's nice to see a newer movie dare to be shorter than two hours.
The lead actors in the supporting cast are Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as Jackie's aide Nancy Tuckerman, and John Hurt as a priest who counsels Jackie amidst the funeral planning. John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant play Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.
JACKIE was directed by Pablo Larrain from a script by Noah Oppenheim. It was filmed by Stephane Fontaine.
Parental Advisory: JACKIE is rated R for the graphic assassination scene and some language. I found it easy to avoid looking at the screen during the violent moments. Other than that scene, I believe JACKIE is fine for older children with an interest in Presidential history.
For more on JACKIE, please read reviews by Leonard Maltin ("an altogether remarkable piece of work") and Kenneth Turan ("transporting, transfixing").
A trailer is here.