4.5 out of 5 stars.
“Jackie” concludes with the finale of the musical “Camelot” playing over the action; as Jackie states in the film, the cast album was a favorite of her husband’s, President John F. Kennedy, comparing his brief time in office prior to his assassination to that mystical land. While that comment has led to many referring to the Kennedy years as the “Camelot era,” in this film the lyrics seem to apply more to Jackie Kennedy herself, a woman quickly losing control of her life in the wake of her husband’s death.
Directed by Pablo Larrain, “Jackie” primarily takes place in the two weeks following the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. We see the First Lady (portrayed by Natalie Portman) navigate the aftermath in a sort of daze, including watching Vice President Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President on the plane from Dallas to Washington, D.C., refusing to change out of her blood-stained suit because she wants the world to see what happened. She has a big hand in planning her husband’s funeral, which she wants to be a grand procession in the style of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, in spite of objections from her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) that it may be a security risk. At the same time, she finds herself being pushed out of the White House, her home that she had so painstakingly restored. These events are framed by glimpses at a 1962 television special in which Jackie gives viewers a tour of the White House, and an interview she conducts with Life magazine reporter Theodore White (Billy Crudup) at the Kennedy’s Massachusetts home Hyannis Port the week following the assassination.
“Jackie” may be a narrative film, but it gives an unprecedented glimpse into not just the life of the notoriously private former First Lady, but into her mind. Throughout the film, we see her painstakingly cultivate a specific image for the public. She is desperate to make sure her husband in remembered not the way McKinley and Garfield—two lesser known Presidents who were assassinated in office—are, but the way Lincoln is, even if he never got to accomplish everything in office that he could have. The affected, formal tone and smile she plasters across her face in the televised tour of the White House is very different from the more casual pose and frank, but also slightly grim, tone she adopts during her private conversations with White. Even then, she is grasping for control over everything. As soon as he enters the home, she tells him that she will be editing their conversation, and throughout she tells him what he can and cannot publish.
By having all these different segments—the interview, the funeral, and the White House tour, along with a personal conversation Jackie has with a priest (John Hurt)—unfold at the same time, Larrain allows them to play off each other and present a portrait of Jackie that is as complex as she is. We see her anger and her grief, but we also see her love—for her husband, for her children, and for the country. It’s accented by beautiful cinematography and a haunting, sometimes discordant score by Mica Levi that gives an impression of how off-kilter everything in Jackie’s life is after her husband’s death.
Portman could have easily resorted to an impression of Jackie for her performance, but she nails her accent, gestures, and general appearance in a way that allows the viewer to get to know the real person behind all that, from the public poise to the private hysterics. In a career filled with stunning performances, “Jackie” is Portman at her best.
Jackie Kennedy was more than the fashion icon she is primarily remembered as. While there is still a lot more to her life than Larrain’s film indicates, it gives a better impression of her as a person than any traditional biopic ever could, pulling back the curtain that she so often hid behind, even in plain sight.
Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated R.