Film & Television

‘Jackie’: Natalie Portman’s Shining Moment

So why is her story worth revisiting yet again, and what makes Jackie so much better than those earlier efforts? There are two answers really.

First, Larrain and Oppenheim have created a much more dimensional Jackie Kennedy. She is every bit as classy, determined and regal as the heroine figure in the American mythology we’ve all embraced. But, they’ve added human attributes that are sometimes flawed and often more interesting. Alone in the White House, their Jackie drinks heavily, tries on her designer ballgowns, and chain smokes. (“I don’t smoke,” she insists to the reporter she’s invited to Hyannisport after the funeral, who has just seen her light another cigarette.) She tries desperately to understand what’s happened. “I need to speak with Oswald!” she exclaims impossibly, not yet knowing he’s been killed. She confides her fears and her husband’s failings to a priest, struggling with her faith and future.

The other reason Jackie is such a powerful film is the extraordinary performance of its leading lady. Portman does a tremendous job balancing an accurate impersonation of Mrs. Kennedy’s unique voice and mannerisms with a performance that is genuine and fresh. There is nothing cartoonish about the portrayal, and there isn’t a single moment that feels false. She is nothing less than enthralling.

Portman’s supporting cast is fine, particularly Greta Gerwig as her assistant, Billy Crudup as the journalist and John Hurt as her priest. Peter Sarsgaard’s Bobby Kennedy is as often at odds with Jackie as he is a comfort. And, although his part is small (and in flashback, clearly), Caspar Phillipson is a ringer for JFK. Sets, costumes, and art direction are all first-rate. But, it’s Portman, onscreen nearly every moment, who mesmerizes us.

Jackie understood (and in the film, explains to the reporter) that people need to believe in fairy tales. Her husband, who wasn’t in office for three years, became a fairy tale hero due in great part to the decisions she made after his death. Drawing from his favorite album, the original cast recording of Camelot, she assured that we would all have “one brief shining moment” to remember together.

What Jackie achieves quite brilliantly is showing how a very human woman created and gave us a legendary man.

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