Natalie Portman Peter Sarsgaard Greta Gerwig Billy Crudup John Hurt Richard E. Grant
The opening scene: A black screen and loud, dirge-like music with sound winding down like someone stopping an old phonograph player clues you in for the mournful tragedy that is to follow. In Jackie, director Pablo Larrain has created an artistically rendered film that pays homage to Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of slain President John F. Kennedy, and the aftermath of his assassination. We get a behind-the-scenes view of her efforts in planning his funeral, the many resistances she encounters, the conflicts she has with some, and the intrusive advice she receives, regarding funeral planning and her children for instance, from so many. Above all, we see an intelligent woman whom many considered shallow and pretentious take the helm and manage to honor her husband in the way she wanted, which was based partly on her keen knowledge of history but as well on her own deeply felt, genuine emotions.
Larrain jumps around in time perhaps to help convey an impressionist “painting” of the woman and give the viewer a sense of the turbulence experienced by the country after the assassination. Scenes are interspersed with an interview conducted by “A Journalist” (Crudup)—presumably Theodore H. White, a family friend—whom Jackie had asked soon after his death to write about John Kennedy’s legacy for Life Magazine. This is apparently where the comparison was made with their years in the White House as “Camelot”, the subject of a Broadway Play, the last song of which was Kennedy’s favorite. Jackie wanted the article to convey the import of the song: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
Other scenes portray Jackie’s interactions with Bobby Kennedy (Sarsgaard); her efforts, assisted by William Walton (Grant), in restoring the White House; poignant moments of intense grief and loss; and conversations with a priest (Hurt) during a stroll in Arlington Cemetery.
The film is a tour de force for actress Natalie Portman as Jackie. She is in virtually every scene, and gives us a convincing picture of a beautiful, intelligent, accomplished woman of great complexity who could dismiss the most presumptuous adversary with a terse, incisive comment. At the same time, Portman needed to show the Southern and Catholic influences in Jackie’s background, along with that of privileged wealth.
Peter Sarsgaard doesn’t look much like Robert Kennedy, but it is easy to see the resemblance in his actions and tone, whether he is grieving for his brother, supporting the widow, or voicing his anger and disappointment about the curtailment of what he hoped would be a brilliant and lasting legacy. Billy Crudup as the sometimes cheeky journalist challenging and complimenting his interviewee shows us the awkwardness of the situation, his attempts to maintain objectivity, and finally succumbing to her charm. Greta Gerwig's performance as Jackie's lifelong friend and White House Secretary is nuanced and appropriately low key.
Mica Levi’s music and Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography support and enhance the excruciating drama played out on the screen, and Noah Oppenheim’s screenplay is an even-handed, historically accurate commentary on the “Camelot” years of John and Jacqueline Kennedy. Pablo Larrain’s synthesis of all the components into a captivating whole should earn him praise and justifiable award consideration.
An insightful, artistic portrayal of a sometimes controversial American legend.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland