Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B
Director:  Pablo Larraín
Written by: Noah Oppenheim
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/3/16
Opens: December 2, 2016

To the Ancient Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and to the Elizabeth playwright William Shakespeare, the ills that befall ordinary people are not the stuff of drama.  Misfortunes that visit commoners at best would become the subject of mere melodrama.  When bad things happen to kings, princes, and the aristocracy, though, tragedy reigns.   Few people would dispute that what happened to President Kennedy on November 22, 1963 is the stuff of tragedy.  In like manner was the impact on Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who received the sympathy of the world as the assassination plunged her into the depths of grief.

The Chilean director Pablo Larraín creates movies interspersed with violence.  His portraits of Chile show his home country suffering from the authoritarianism of the Pinochet regime on the one hand and on the abuses of several clergymen on the other.  He now hones in on America as backdrop in 1963 to a horrific act.  A handsome and dashing President becomes associated with a line in a Broadway musical, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”  Of the ironies of history, remember that the young, intelligent and handsome John F. Kennedy, at one time the world’s most powerful figure, was gunned down by Lee Harvey Oswald, a runt of a man, an ugly, misguided sociopath who hid in a dusty book tower with his rifle and joined the fraternity of the world’s most evil human beings.

Just one week after the Kennedy funeral in November 1963, Jackie Kennedy met with a journalist, Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) from Life magazine to describe her feelings, insisting and receiving editorial privileges to disallow the writer from publishing what she considered to be a violation of her privacy.  Larraín affords us an imaginative reinvention courtesy of Noah Oppenheim’s incisive screenplay.  Nor does it hurt that Mrs. Kennedy is portrayed by Natalie Portman, whom moviegoers know from such imaginative and violent roles as a dancer who wins the lead role in “Black Swan” only to struggle to maintain her sanity.  Portman, like others in “Jackie,” resembles the person she portrays, and better yet has the ex-First Lady’s speech down to a T, even her distinctive Marilyn Monroe’s whisper.

As the journalist takes notes, assertively rather than as a disembodied person or mere recorder of words, Mrs. Kennedy speaks, sometimes through tears, of events at about the time of the funeral.  Laraín mixes fake black-and-white archival footage such as Ms. Portman’s portrayal of Jackie giving a tour of the White House for the TV audience.

Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) is portrayed generally as offering a protective arm around Mrs. Kennedy.  In one shot that tells us more about Lyndon Johnson (Richard E. Grant) than could be conveyed in an hour of text, Robert Kennedy appeals for calm in the White House telling everyone to “sit down” and receiving LBJ’s curt reply, “Excuse me?”

Mrs. Kennedy, who at first wanted a reasonably sedate memorial service, changes her mind and opts for a grand on-foot procession down Constitution Avenue.  In the film’s most private moment, Mrs. Kennedy confers with her priest (John Hurt) about her despair, tossing about her contemplation of suicide or a desire to expose herself to gunshots such as her husband faced.  The priest, without delivering a conventional talk about how suicide is forbidden, nonetheless provides a philosophy that eases her into comprehending her tragic loss.

In a major step away from conventional biopics, Larraín chooses Mica Levi’s powerful music score to express Mrs. Kennedy’s inner turmoil, featuring, as well, her breaking the terrible news to her two children, Caroline and John Jr.  Though a clever use of unconventional forms, “Jackie” springs to life only occasionally, but Ms. Portman’s performance, as reliable as ever, will surely capture the attention of the Academy and various guilds during awards season.

Rated R. 99 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B


By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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