There have been so many movies, miniseries, books and who knows what else on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis over the decades that it’s hard to imagine there is anything new or original left to say. But in the movie Jackie, director Pablo Larrain, writer Noah Oppenheim and star Natalie Portman pull off something of a miracle. As I say in my video review above, the word to best describe this new film about the former First Lady and wife of President John F. Kennedy is haunting. That is largely due to the exquisite performance of Portman, who nails the Jackie accent but does so in a portrayal that is far more than mere impersonation. This is a full-bodied portrait and, yes, speculation, of what the First Lady went through in upholding the dignity of her husband and the nation during the horrible days just after the 1963 assassination of her husband.
The film does not leave it there. It also highlights other moments of her tenure in the White House, including the famous 1961 tour she conducted for television cameras. That has been re-created brilliantly in a movie that is a wonder of production and costume design, as well as hair, makeup, cinematography and other crafts converging to take us right back to the Camelot era. The film also uses the device of having Jackie interviewed by an unnamed journalist (played by Billy Crudup), and that works well in the context of this picture, which had a very successful world premiere in Venice and was picked up for domestic distribution by Fox Searchlight after it played Toronto in September. The Chilean Larrain, director of No and Chile’s current Foreign Language entry Neruda, is an interesting choice; but he turns out to be the right helmer to offer a constantly intriguing and surprising take on this material, even if it is the first movie he has made in English. He gives it real cinematic flair and reportedly insisted that Portman had to star.
You might normally not think of the Oscar-winning Black Swan star when you think of Jackie Kennedy, but it is a transformative performance in every sense of the word. And that includes the words that Portman says as Jackie, using a combination of a Long Island and very distinctive accent, mixed with Ivy League college diction and affectation. It is a moving and fiercely effective portrait of a woman who must stand up for herself, and her late idolized husband, at a time when it is unimaginable to do so.
Of course, Oppenheim’s script, out of necessity, invents conversations and situations, but it is entirely plausible — and that is what makes this all so believable in the telling. The writer’s background and current gig as an NBC News executive doesn’t hurt in the authenticity department. Other actors come in and out, notably Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman, but this most assuredly is Portman’s show, and it is an unforgettable one. Darren Aronofsky (who originally was possibly directing at one point), Scott Franklin, Ari Handel, Juan de Dios Larrain and Mickey Liddell are producers. Searchlight puts it into limited release today.
Do you plan to see Jackie? Let us know what you think.