Portman has placed herself well above her rivals with this masterful performance. (Review: Patrick Compton - 8/10)
Natalie Portman delivers a masterful performance as President John Kennedy’s widow in this elegant, absorbing movie.
Superbly directed by Chilean Pablo Larrain and cleverly scripted by Noah Oppenheim, Jackie is a beautifully judged piece about Jacqueline Kennedy’s traumatic experiences following the assassination of her husband in Dallas in 1963.
The film is structured around an interview that Jackie gave to a journalist (well played by Billy Crudup) some days after the assassination and the resulting funeral. Her overall purpose was to permanently fix the glamorous image of her late husband in the eyes of the American public. And who is to say she didn’t succeed? The notion of Kennedy’s “Camelot” administration (a key scene in the movie) is still widely held today.
The movie shifts back and forth in time during the interview, portraying, among other things, the flawless reconstruction of the White House tour she offered to 80 million TV viewers in 1962, the fateful assassination the following year, the swearing in of Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) and the tumultuous scenes in the hospital where Jackie cries pitifully: “I want him to look like himself”.
During these awful moments and in general, she is consoled by her assistants, well played by Richard E Grant and Greta Gerwig. Jackie’s relationship with her husband’s brother, Robert (an excellent performance by Peter Sarsgaard), allows us a raw insight into the realities of “Camelot” as the veil that normally conceals what the public is allowed to see is briefly lifted. There is also a last movie role for John Hurt as a Catholic priest who helps restore Jackie’s faith.
Portman, who masters the distinctive breathiness of Jackie’s well-bred voice, offers a multi-faceted portrait of the iconic First Lady. We see the intensity of her determination to create a lasting image of her husband, but also the depths of her grief, medicated by swigs of the vodka bottle, and her steely determination not to shield her children from the TV cameras.
Particularly fascinating is the way Portman projects the steel of her public persona as well as exposing her vulnerabilities. The steel comes with her role as First Lady, protecting her husband’s reputation, emphasising the unique quality of the Kennedy White House and ensuring that the journalist follows her wishes to the T, both in what he writes and what he leaves out. By the end of the movie, just as we appear to get a sense of who she really is, Portman tantalisingly shuts us out as she dons her public mask again.
It’s not surprising that the film garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design – largely because of the exquisite dresses Jackie wears – as well as for Best Actress. Many actors have played Jackie, in both films and TV series, but Portman has placed herself well above her rivals with this performance. In a less distinguished year, she would surely have earned the ultimate gong.
Jackie opened on March 3 at Gateway Nouveau, The Pavilion and Watercrest Mall. – Patrick Compton