What It's About: The 1963 Kennedy assassination has been revisited on screen many times, but in 'Jackie," we experience the American tragedy from the iconic First Lady's perspective.
And one of history's most defining events has the same traumatic gut-punch it did 53 years ago. Whether you remember the incidents or have seen images, the impact remains powerful. But this is Jackie's story, and one of the most admired women in history is as compelling as ever.
The film is so much more than a historical recreation of a traumatic moment in time. Beautifully shot and remarkably realized in Natalie Portman's stunning portrait, "Jackie" is a sharp, intimate account of a well-crafted legacy.
The movie concentrates on the days following the assassination. Only known as "The Journalist" here, Billy Crudup's character interviews Jackie at Hyannis Port a week later. She shrewdly controls the narrative. The character is supposedly a composite of Theodore White, who wrote the Life magazine piece, historian Arthur Schlesinger and William Manchester.
Depicting the First Family, the motorcade in Dallas, and the state funeral are woven in to the no-frills narrative by Noah Oppenheim.
When John F. Kennedy became president in 1961, a vibrant family with young children at play was on display. Stylish and cultured First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy gave America an inside tour of the White House, and we fell in love with her charm and grace.
That all was abruptly shattered Nov. 22, 1963. How Jackie comes to grips with the emotional tsunami she's been thrust into is superbly conveyed by a never-better Natalie Portman.
Performances: Portman, who nails Jackie's speech cadence, carriage and style in the same meticulous way as her physical looks, is the complete package. Her vivid portrayal is the year's best performance by an actress, and will have her on the short list during awards season.
Portman, Oscar winner for "Black Swan," has the skills to define such an iconic figure, and she commits to the non-glossy version, showing us the steely determination of someone summoning remarkable strength at a time of unmitigated sorrow.
Peter Sarsgaard is strong as Robert Kennedy, eschewing the Kennedy accent. The supporting cast is solid, but all eyes are on Jackie.
What Works: Mica Levi's haunting music score captures the story's contrasts with abrupt dissonant chord changes. It's an effective, showy move.
The production design, cinematography, editing and costume design are outstanding, and enhance the period immeasurably.
What Doesn't Work: Director Pablo Larain has stripped away artifice and pretense, and his version doesn't go soft for a second. People wanting to perpetuate fairy tale speculations may not like a harsher tale.
But this is sure a fascinating glimpse inside the private woman who helped craft the epic myth of "Camelot."
Portman is unforgettable, but the movie is memorable, too.
Stars: 3 1/2 out of 4
Director: Pablo Larrain
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt
Rated: R for brief strong violence and some language.