by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday December 2, 2016

Natalie Portman stars in 'Jackie'
Natalie Portman stars in 'Jackie'   

Half, if not more, of the John F. Kennedy mythos belongs to the slain president's wife, Jacqueline, a smart and accomplished woman who went on after JFK's murder to marry shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Still later, she enjoyed a successful career as an editor, first at Viking Books and then at Doubleday.

Though Hollywood has taken a look at Jackie Kennedy in at least two feature films, more often what we see of her is a figure in a pin Chanel suit with matching pillbox hat -- her wardrobe on the day JFK was assassinated. A couple of years ago in Lee Daniels' "The Butler," Jackie had a part to play in that very outfit -- spattered with her husband's gore, an ensemble she was loathe to remove.

That outfit (and Jackie's unwillingness to change out of it) recur in Pablo Larran's film "Jackie," and in some ways that iconic image of the former first lady serves as a touchstone and anchor for the film, serving as it does as a symbol of lives lost and lives shattered. This is not a biopic in the usual sense; the film revolves not around JFK's murder, but a conversation Jackie (Natalie Portman) has with a reporter some days afterwards, an interview that she shrewdly engineers and sculpts, even as it is in progress, with the sometimes reluctant collaboration of the reporter (who is played by Billy Crudup).

Jackie is cool and in control -- but as the structure of the film insinuates, her life truly has been shattered, and to some extent her psyche along with it. The film consists of fragments -- Jackie talking with the reporter, Jackie on the plane to Dallas with JFK, or arguing with Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), or walking with a kindly priest (John Hurt), or changing her mind repeatedly about whether or not to walk in a processional for her husband's state funeral. She runs hot and cold, veering from overwhelmed and grateful for the support of others to hostile and bitterly accusatory. (Her relationship with Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson [John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant, respectively] is especially fraught: Not only has life as she know it ended, but the Johnsons are taking over the White House with what seems like dizzying speed.)

Those fragments sometimes seem less than artfully arranged, and yet they do add up to a picture: That of Jackie deliberately constructing the popular image of the Kennedy presidency as "Camelot." At the same time, in more confidential asides, she worries about her own vanity and frankly asserts her will -- not that she's going to allow Crudup's reporter to write down any of her more frank and plain-spoken sentiments.

Cinematographer Stphane Fontaine neatly separates the eras of Jackie's life, using for her period of mourning a muddy color palette in which only certain tones -- yellow, primarily -- pop out. Earlier times are happier, and a more vivid color scheme applies. When we recall, with Jackie, a high point of her celebrity -- a TV special in which she shows off her redecoration of the White House -- the image becomes black and white, and smudgy, as if seen on television in the early 1960s.

But throughout it's Natalie Portman who astonishes. Mercurial and unstoppable, she gives the film an electric charge, re-creating Jackie's voice and bearing but making the performance feel present and unpredictable -- though her erratic changes of mood make perfect sense in the film's context, and work well with the editing and camera angles, which include a good deal of close ups.

Look for Portman to appear on Oscar ballots. But look for her first at the Cineplex: This movie is unquestionably Oscar bait, but it's worthy of a place on your must-see list.



Jackie Kennedy :: Natalie Portman
Bobby Kennedy :: Peter Sarsgaard
Nancy Tuckerman :: Greta Gerwig
The Journalist :: Billy Crudup
The Priest :: John Hurt
Bill Walton :: Richard Grant
Lyndon B. Johnson :: John Lynch
Lady Bird Johnson :: Beth Grant
Jack Valenti :: Max Casella
John Fitzgerald Kennedy :: Caspar Phillipson


Director :: Pablo Larraín
Screenwriter :: Noah Oppenheim
Producer :: Juan de Dios Larraín
Producer :: Darren Aronofsky
Producer :: Mickey Liddell
Producer :: Scott Franklin
Producer :: Ari Handel
Executive Producer :: Pete Shilaimon
Executive Producer :: Jennifer Monroe
Executive Producer :: Jayne Hong
Executive Producer :: Wei Han
Executive Producer :: Lin Qi
Executive Producer :: Josh Stern
Cinematographer :: Stéphane Fontaine
Film Editor :: Sebastián Sepúlveda
Original Music :: Mica Levi
Production Design :: Jean Rabasse


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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.