Film Review: “Jackie”

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard and Billy Crudup
Directed by: Pablo Larrain
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

I am a Kennedy buff. Born in 1960, I was raised in a family that regarded the Kennedy family in the same way the British regard the Royal Family. I’m too young to remember JFK – though my father once wrote a poem where he noted that I was an angry child because one of my favorite kids programs had been preempted by a speech from the President. My mother woke me up in the wee hours of the morning when Bobby Kennedy was shot. As a 20 year old I worked for Ted Kennedy’s presidential campaign. I’ve studied the family as much as I could. When Jacqueline Kennedy passed away in May 1994 a funny thought went through my mind. I had never heard her speak. Every time I saw footage of her, she was either running from the press or, earlier in her life, smiling quietly. It wasn’t until the era of YouTube, when a television special about the White House that Mrs. Kennedy hosted was uploaded, that I finally heard her speak. Soft and quiet, like the coo of a dove. And that is the voice that drives the new film “Jackie.”

“Jackie” is two very different looks at the former First Lady. First is the young, vibrant Jackie. Freshly moved into the White House, she has angered some in the country by remodeling. To show the people what she did, she agrees to host a television special, giving many in the country their first look inside “the people’s house.” The second look is that of an angry widow, just a week after the assassination of her husband, trying to figure out how to make sure her martyred husband’s legacy will live on. This is the more dramatic Jackie and this is where “Jackie” works best.

It’s been six years since Natalie Portman won the Best Actress Oscar for “Black Swan.” Since then, with the exception of a couple of Marvel movies she hasn’t really been showing up in mainstream films. Here she returns with a vengeance. She captures every facet of Jacqueline Kennedy. The smiling, laughing young woman and the embittered widow, refusing to change out of her clothes, stained with her husband’s blood, because she “wants them to see what they’ve done.” Again, it’s the second persona, one who agrees to speak with a reporter to describe her feelings and to conjure the image of Camelot, that holds your attention.

Portman is surrounded by a good supporting cast, including Greta Gerwig as White House Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman, Crudup as the reporter who knows all along that he will never be permitted to print most of his interview and Danish actor Caspar Phillipson, who bears an amazing resemblance to the late President Kennedy. Sarsgaard is adequate as RFK, but the fact that he doesn’t even attempt a New England accent is annoyingly noticeable.

But Portman is the story here. Go check her out before she disappears for another six years.