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Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 12:04 am

Portman returns to form with Jackie

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie.


Much like a kaleidoscope that provides rapidly changing perspectives, Pablo Larrain’s Jackie gives us a wide variety of glimpses into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy as the first lady tries to come to terms with her place in the world after her husband’s assassination. Eschewing the traditional structure of the Hollywood biopic, the film careens back and forth between various stages in her life, some moments occurring long before that fateful November day in Dallas, some immediately after, and some far in the future. However, the anchor for the narrative is a based-on-fact interview Mrs. Kennedy sat down for with a journalist in Hyannisport one week after the state funeral she presided over. This serves as a jumping-off point for the film, as the memories the reporter’s questions prompt in Mrs. Kennedy’s mind form the bulk of the movie.

The journalist (an excellent Billy Crudup) assures his subject that the account he will publish of the assassination and its aftermath “will be your own version of what happened.” Mrs. Kennedy (Natalie Portman) wouldn’t have it any other way, as over the course of the wide-ranging conversation she lets her guard down and is caught being genuine on more than one occasion, a quality she’s had to suppress since entering the international spotlight.  This is never more evident than when Larrain recreates the famous television special “A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy,” in which the first lady gave a walking tour of the newly refurbished residence. Mannered and stiff on screen, this genteel public persona would come to consume her, a slight representation of this complex woman.

However, as soon as the assassination occurs, this mask is obliterated and Mrs. Kennedy is lost at sea, unsure how to behave in the aftermath as she witnesses Lyndon Baines Johnson’s hurried swearing in on Air Force One before leaving Dallas, her being quickly displaced in the White House, and in dealing with her brother-in-law Bobby’s (Peter Sarsgaard) attempts to marginalize her participation in her husband’s funeral. Portman is haunting in these moments; dazed, seemingly catatonic at times, and finally calculating, as she realizes there’s no room for sentimentality or weakness in the world of politics.

This is in sharp contrast to the fierce Jackie that appears whenever the movie circles back to the interview, as she adamantly insists that there are certain revelations – particularly her account of the assassination – she will not allow to be published while she forcefully states that she does not smoke, soon after finishing one of the many cigarettes she consumes as they talk. Always aware of the public image of both herself and her deceased husband, Mrs. Kennedy insists on putting forth an air of respectability where they are both concerned, willing to foist lies on the public in order to save face as well as provide them what she feels they need from her.

Of course, the success of this entire enterprise rests firmly on Portman’s shoulders, and she’s more than up to the task, finally challenging herself after so many years of disposable movies in the wake of Black Swan. In bringing to life the many faces of Jackie, the actress is given free reign to run a gamut of emotions, ranging from catatonic grief to calculated martyr and everything in between. However, the actresses’ best moments are those in which Mrs. Kennedy is by herself, having put away the public persona and allowed to just be. The scene in which she finally sheds the iconic pink ensemble she wore during the assassination and washes away the blood from her hair and body allows the actress to tap into the vulnerability behind the mask. It’s in moments such as this that Jackie soars and Portman reminds us what a powerful performer she can be.

For reviews of Gold and Split, go to the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

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