A number of strong ideas carry the film. Yet Jackie might have enduring power in our minds most of all because of Natalie Portman, who does something fascinating with her portrayal of Jacqueline Onassis. She suggests that Onassis, a woman defined by elegance in her style and eloquence in her speech, had a very deliberate public persona that she played with her very own distinct if obsessive ideas of how a First Lady should be remembered.
The framework of the movie centers around an interview a week after the assassination of John F. Kennedy between Jacqueline and a reporter played by Billy Crudup (unnamed, but he’s supposed to be based on Theodore H. White). For a print interview, Jacqueline is far more assertive in being a magisterial voice with absolute ideals. Over the course of the film we see how she changes from one verbal strategy to another in order to helm her power. She used her breathy ladylike voice in the most slavish way if it was, in a moment, the best way of getting heard.
The director Pablo Larrain (the Chilean film “No”) is a foreigner, take note, who doesn’t give a damn about sanctifying the politics of America. He’s interested in the trauma of Jacqueline putting on a dignified face for the nation while mourning the loss of her husband, but what’s stunning about it is the confession of dismayed emotions she had about her marriage. Our slain President was a great leader, she felt, but not a man who was emotionally there for her. Some of the silent contemplations might be a little too much for some viewers wanting constant information. And, side note, there’s a handful of potentially offensive grotesque brain-spilling shots of our deceased President.
What the director also succeeds at is a 1960’s burnished color visual strategy that evokes the White House, the Dallas airport, the Arlington cemetery in that era. Peter Sarsgaard fills in as Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig does sympathetic aide Pamela Turnure, but the best performance besides Portman is John Hurt as a priest who coaches Jacqueline through her most ambivalent thoughts. Maybe because the dialogue has a heightened mortal wisdom to it (Hurt, an actor who understood the art of masquerade, made this his final film role before he passed away), and something profound momentarily happens when those two share the screen.
99 Minutes. Rated R.
BIOGRAPHICAL DRAMA / ART FILM / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Primary” (1960); “JFK” (1991); “Thirteen Days” (2000); “Bobby” (2006).