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Jackie Movie Review

Jackie (2016) movie poster Jackie

Theatrical Release: December 2, 2016 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Pablo Larraνn / Writer: Noah Oppenheim

Cast: Natalie Portman (Jackie Kennedy), Peter Sarsgaard (Bobby Kennedy), Greta Gerwig (Nancy Tuckerman), Richard E. Grant (Bill Walton), Caspar Phillipson (John F. Kennedy), John Carroll Lynch (Lyndon B. Johnson), Beth Grant (Lady Bird Johnson), Max Casella (Jack Valenti), Billy Crudup (The Journalist), John Hurt (The Priest)

Much like The Queen's depiction of Queen Elizabeth II following the death of Princess Diana, Jackie dramatizes the life of Jacqueline Kennedy
in the wake of her husband's assassination.

Like her husband, Jackie (portrayed by Natalie Portman) stood out among First Ladies of the United States. She was young, attractive, wealthy, and educated. She was also sitting next to her husband when he took a fatal gunshot to the head as they rode in the back of the presidential limousine as part of a motorcade in Dallas in the fall of 1963.

Directed by Chile's Pablo Larraνn (Foreign Language Oscar nominee No and this year's eliminated hopeful Neruda) from an original screenplay by Noah Oppenheim (The Maze Runner, Allegiant), Jackie begins in the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, with Mrs. Kennedy, swiftly stripped of her First Lady status with the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson, coping with her loss while having a say in the funeral arrangements.

On the eve of her husband's funeral, a grieving Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) talks to a priest (John Hurt) in "Jackie."

Providing something of a frame story, the widow is interviewed by an unnamed print journalist (Billy Crudup), who is respectful but candid and determined to get some forthright confessions from the grieving mother of two young children. We jump from their discussion to a faithfully recreated black and white television program from a couple of years earlier in which Mrs. Kennedy toured her family's famous home, the White House.

Mrs. Kennedy wants a memorial service befitting her husband, instructing staff members to use Abraham Lincoln's funeral as a template. Her husband's brother Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) is often nearby to respectfully question her plans while attempting to shield her from some aspects during this trying time. As the Kennedys have to move out of the White House, there is a new administration to deal with and a small birthday party to throw just days later for John Jr., turning three.

When she's not talking to the journalist or Bobby, Jackie is confiding in her longtime friend and social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and trying to make sense of the loss with help from an aging priest (John Hurt).

Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) look appropriately glum after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in "Jackie."

As you might imagine, Jackie is a showcase for Portman. She puts on the First Lady's somewhat recognizable mid-century, upper class New York accent. It's a touch distracting at first, but you grow accustomed to it as you soak in the layers of the performance. Long before her husband's death, Jackie was someone that people looked up to in admiration.
Fortunately, the film is more interested in humanizing Kennedy than beatifying her. Jackie smokes, she raises her voice, and she doesn't always know the presidential thing to do. Even someone born into privilege and culture isn't bound to be at ease filling a high-profile position only a few dozen other women have held before her. And nearly three eventful years on that job couldn't have prepared her for what was to come on that fateful November afternoon.

Jackie consistently compels. It avoids the distractions of casting a bunch of well-known actors to be transformed to resemble well-known figures, issues that plagued the likes of Lee Daniels' The Butler and Oliver Stone's W. Portman looks the part, as does Sarsgaard. John Carroll Lynch is enough of a chameleon to pass for President Johnson. And though he doesn't get to do a whole lot of acting, Caspar Phillipson is kind of the spitting image of JFK.

Instead of recreating the Kennedys' time in office, Jackie unfolds like something of an intimate stage play, deconstructing Jackie's grief and perspective undoubtedly from a mix of public record and Oppenheim's imagination. Aside from one graphic and seemingly unnecessary shot of the world-changing headshot, the film tends to opt for quieter reflection and fairly restrained emotion. This couldn't be much further in style and tone from the most famous film on the Kennedy assassination, Oliver Stone's investigation-opening 1991 conspiracy thriller. Jackie is much more akin to The Queen.

That 2006 film won Helen Mirren the Oscar for Best Actress and also picked up five other nominations, including three in major categories. Is Jackie destined for similar recognition? Portman, who won six years ago for Black Swan, seems destined to seriously compete for a second statuette. Playing a known historical figure might give her a leg up on the competition, which includes La La Land's Emma Stone, Arrival's Amy Adams, veterans Meryl Streep and Annette Bening, and Elle's Isabelle Huppert. Portman has gotten off to a strong start with a win at the Critics' Choice and all the major nominations she could draw, including the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. At this point, it would be a shock for her to not pick up her third nomination from the Oscars.

It is less clear that the film will compete in awards beyond Best Actress. Though well-reviewed, Jackie has missed Best Picture fields as deep as ten and eleven. The Oscars' top category only supports up to ten nominees (realistically, just nine) and has only held eight the past two years. An omission there would make it easier for the film to miss out on an original screenplay nomination. Nonetheless, the film could very well still feature in Best Original Score for Mica Levi's showy work. (Makeup and Hairstyling seemed like a possible target, but the film surprisingly missed the shortlist of seven issued this week.)

After a few weeks of playing just on the coasts, Jackie expands to 335 theaters today just as Christmas moviegoing amps up.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Hidden Figures • Loving • Elle Lion • La La Land • Manchester by the Sea • Moonlight • Arrival
Natalie Portman: Black Swan • Jane Got a Gun • Knight of Cups • The Other Boleyn Girl • Thor
Peter Sarsgaard: An Education • Blue Jasmine • Lovelace • Orphan | Greta Gerwig: Frances Ha • Maggie's Plan • Mistress America
The Queen • Florence Foster Jenkins

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Reviewed December 23, 2016.



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