Screen Savor: Jackie’s Strength

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Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in "Jackie." Photo by William Gray.

Pablo Larraín’s stunning “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight), begins in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in the days following her husband President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination and funeral, when widow Jackie (Natalie Portman in an Oscar-worthy performance) met with journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup on the comeback trail) to offer her own “version of what happened.” Portman’s portrayal is graceful and nuanced, recreating, but never imitating, Jackie’s speech pattern, distinctive voice, facial expressions and other mannerisms, including smoking cigarettes.

In order to answer the “What will she do next?” question, Jackie agrees to speak to White. She thinks he wants a “moment by moment account” of the events in Dallas. He assures her that readers would settle for a story that’s believable.

Relayed through a series flashbacks, including Pablo Casals’ 1961 White House concert and Jackie’s 1962 televised tour of the White House, to the assassination and the aftermath, “Jackie” is never less than riveting. Larraín has succeeded in creating a historical portrait without ever boring viewers for a minute.

The events in Dallas are the centerpiece and are as brutal as any dramatizations we’ve seen in the past. From the scenes in the motorcade to Jackie’s description of the shooting, to those showing her crying and wiping her husband’s blood and brains from her face afterward. Of course, because she requires the final say in what runs in White’s magazine article, it’s one of many things she won’t let him publish in print.

Equally mesmerizing are the scenes following the assassination. We watch as Jackie initially wanders zombie-like through the swearing-in of LBJ (John Carroll Lynch), making funeral plans with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), attempting to be with her husband at the hospital, meeting with a priest (John Hurt), showering, and talking to her children Caroline (Sunnie Pelant) and John Jr. (Aiden and Brody Weinberg), and being comforted by childhood friend-turned-social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (the usually grating Greta Gerwig in an uncharacteristically controlled performance).

When she ultimately makes the transition from weakened widow to woman warrior, making certain that her demands are met – that JFK is to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery (not Brookline) and that there be “a big beautiful procession that people will remember” for his funeral – we can’t help but cheer her on to victory.  “Jackie” is Portman’s movie and she is triumphant. Mica Levi’s chill-inducing score is also an essential component in the film.

In ways too numerous to count, the timing of the release of this film is remarkable. Considering that the oafish and ill-equipped Trump, in spite of also coming from wealth, is the polar opposite of JFK in every way imaginable.


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