Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband's historic legacy.
Review by Louise Keller:
Real or performance? This is the question that haunts us throughout this stunning portrait of a woman whose grace, dignity and style define the essence of the Kennedy presidency. Noah Oppenheim's brilliant screenplay is both claustrophobic and unrestricted in that it draws us in, yet allows us freedom within this structured world to contemplate and wonder about the enigmatic woman at its centre. As a starting point, he uses a simple device: an interview by Life Magazine journalist (nicely played by Billy Crudup), in which Jackie is invited to give her own version of what happened on that fateful day in Dallas, Texas. ('Don't think for one moment that I'm going to let you publish that'.) Chilean director Pablo Larrain allows us to get close up and personal with tight close ups and perspectives that both clarify and contradict everything we ever thought we knew about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
Natalie Portman's central multi-layered performance is unforgettable for many reasons. Beyond the physical illusion of the elegant woman whose fashion statement, sense of style and grace makes an indelible stamp, Portman captures much more. Her portrayal is both internal and external: from the distinctive, breathy, almost Monroe-esque manner of speech and practiced smile to the grief-torn woman in total control of her public and private image, whose vulnerability is only revealed in private. Her priority is clear - making a mark in history and leaving a legacy. There is much beneath the beautiful, grief-stricken face that we see up close in the very first scene.
Appearances are everything - her refusal to change from the blood soaked candy pink boucle Chanel suit with gold buttons, navy trim and matching pillbox hat after her husband's assassination is a statement to the world, just as her carefully choreographed appearance at his funeral with the two children who have been rendered fatherless by an assassin's bullet. Is her grief for the loss of a husband or is it the loss of the illusion of 'that one brief shining moment' in Camelot, to which Lerner and Loewe refers. 'I never wanted fame, she says; I just became a Kennedy.' As for her husband's indiscretions? There is only one brief reference to a world to which he is seduced - in the context that he 'always comes back to his beloved family.'
We feel like voyeurs in this intimate film where we are flies on the wall as we watch the diminutive first lady parade in different outfits through the stately rooms of the White House, draw on cigarettes, pop pills and drink vodka. Her life is carefully choreographed - from the televised 1961 White House tour (which she wanted to share with the American people), to the elaborate funeral with its horse drawn procession (a controversial event for many reasons). Peter Sarsgaard is a credible Bobby Kennedy with whom Jackie discusses intimate details ('We are the beautiful people,' he says; 'we're ridiculous'; Greta Gerwig is understated as Jackie's aide and confidante, who props up her public image; John Hurt is the accessible Irish Catholic priest with whom Jackie can reveal her most unguarded side. The assassination scene itself and others that canvas her first hand experience and feelings are intensely personal,
Mica Levi's extraordinary unsettling score, with its questioning strings has a powerful presence throughout, never allowing the tensions to subside. Larrain's film is constantly edgy; challenging, unexpected, revealing. It could well bring Portman a second Academy Award, which would be richly deserved.
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CAST: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt
PRODUCER: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larrain
SCRIPT: Noah Oppenheim
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephane Fontaine
EDITOR: Sebastian Sepulveda
MUSIC: Mica Levi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean Rabasse
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: EOne Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 12, 2016