“Jackie” is a mesmerizing yet voyeuristic account of President Kennedy’s assassination, told from the first lady’s point of view. Rating: 3-and-a-half stars out of 4.
A sort of impressionist portrait of grief, “Jackie” tells a story whose ending — and beginning — we all know. A beautiful, young first lady (Natalie Portman), beside her husband, waves to a crowd from a motorcade — and, in a bloody instant, the world changes. Even those of us not old enough to have memories of that week in 1963 know the indelible images of it: the pink suit, the veiled widow, the so-very-young children in their short coats, the riderless horse, the quiet grief of the assembled crowds.
Pablo Larrain’s film takes those terrible, familiar moments and mixes them with a scene less known: that of a shaken but holding-it-together widow, meeting with an invited journalist (Billy Crudup) soon after the tragedy to discuss her husband’s legacy. Also woven in is a meticulous re-creation of “A Tour of the White House,” the 1962 television program on which a sweetly nervous, elegant Jackie Kennedy introduced a national audience to the restoration and redecoration work she had supervised in “America’s house.”
It’s a strange movie — it feels, like Portman’s Jackie, like it might shatter if dropped — and Mica Levi’s eerie, dissonant soundtrack, with its howl-like chords, adds to the disorienting experience. And yet “Jackie” is mesmerizing; a familiar story told from an entirely different angle. It’s voyeuristic, to be sure — the scenes of Jackie alone in her White House bedroom, after the shooting, feel almost unbearably intimate — but you can’t look away. The film’s very brief depiction of the assassination plays like the most vivid of nightmares.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Jackie,’ with Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt. Directed by Pablo Larrain, from a screenplay by Noah Oppenheim. 100 minutes. Rated R for brief strong violence and some language. Guild 45th, Egyptian, Lincoln Square.
And Portman, all wide eyes and a bouffant helmet of hair, creates a touchingly fragile yet resolute Jackie, made up of nervous smiles, a whispery voice composed of equal parts steel wool and cashmere, and a straight-shouldered, gentle defiance. As she goes through the motions of those terrible days, directing the funeral and seeing to her children (the sight of her in a black dress at 3-year-old John’s quiet birthday party is heartbreaking), we see an intricate dual performance; it’s both Portman performing Jackie, and Jackie performing Jackie. This famously private woman rarely lets us know what she’s feeling; it comes out, around others, in tiny moments. Trying to plan the rest of her life in an instant, she notes that the White House, and the Kennedy vacation homes, weren’t hers. “Nothing’s ever mine,” she murmurs, resignation hanging in the air. “Not to keep, anyway.”
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