Monday, December 26, 2016

Movie Review: "Jackie"

To me, Jackie Kennedy has always seemed like a total enigma. Although she approached her role as first lady with tremendous poise, grace, and style, quite often it appeared as if she wished she could have been anywhere else. And while I wasn't alive during the Kennedy administration, I always admired the fierceness with which she protected her privacy despite still being such an iconic figure, as well as her devotion to her children.

Pablo Larraín's film mainly concentrates on Jackie's life in the moments, days, and weeks after her husband's assassination, one of the most traumatic events the American public had experienced in some time. It also looks back on certain instances in which she demonstrated the flair, the youthful interest in culture, the elegance which endeared her to the public.

The majority of the movie has Jackie (Natalie Portman, practically disappearing into her character) talking to a journalist (Billy Crudup) about what she thinks her husband's legacy should be, and what life was like for her prior to, during, and after the assassination. Of course, she's not going to let him actually publish most of what she says, but the interview is a perfect opportunity to share her frustrations, her fears, what she perceives to be her lack of purpose, and most of all, her grief.

Immediately following the assassination, Jackie had to deal not only with her grief, but how to appropriately embody that to the American people. She was determined that her husband's funeral and burial should be appropriate for a world leader, especially one with his stature, despite his family's reticence and the desire of the new president to control the situation. (Those not alive during this time might not realize that for a while, no one was completely sure whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or if Kennedy's assassination was part of a larger plot which could endanger the country.)

Jackie was a whirlwind of emotions and demands, much to the chagrin of Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), who has appointed himself her protector. He, too, is concerned about his brother's legacy, but isn't sure the spectacle Jackie wants is right for the country. But as she struggles with her faith, her feelings about her husband and their marriage, and her crushing grief, she is more concerned with doing what is right, what will make people remember her husband and his presidency into the future.

While the movie itself moves at a very slow pace, Portman is utterly mesmerizing. She has Kennedy's breathy, patrician speech patterns down pat, and many times when I saw her on screen I didn't think I was looking at an actress portraying Jackie Kennedy, I thought I was looking at Kennedy herself. This is truly a tour de force performance, one I thought was even stronger than her Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan. It could even net her a second Oscar.

Amazingly, although this movie has a large cast, it often seems like a one-woman show, because the focus is mainly on Jackie. I'm a Sarsgaard fan but didn't think he brought anything special to his portrayal of RFK, and while Greta Gerwig does a sympathetic turn as White House Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman, and John Hurt brings some crusty charm as Jackie's priest, this is Portman's movie.

I don't know how close to the truth this movie adheres, but it was a fascinating look at such a turbulent time in American history, and how passionate Jackie Kennedy was about preserving her husband's legacy. Living in the Washington, DC area, it is a legacy that is still very much a part of this city, so we can be grateful for all she fought for.

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