Natalie Portman brings ‘Jackie’ to life

Natalie Portman in ‘Jackie’

“Can anyone understand how it is to have lived in the White House and then, suddenly, to be living alone as the President’s widow?” – Jackie Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd, 1963.  Before the end of that month his widow, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman – Black Swan, Thor) summoned Life Magazine journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup – Spotlight, 20th Century Women) to the Kennedy’s compound in Hyannis Port, MA.   She wanted to give an interview as a kind of postscript to the Kennedy presidency and his assassination.  Considering that White had won a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction the previous year for his “The Making of the President, 1960” about JFK’s road to the Oval Office, he was the ideal choice.

Jackie from director Pablo Larrain (Neruda, Tony Manero) uses that interview to tell the story of the murder of JFK and what transpired in the next days leading up to his funeral.  Written by Noah Oppenheim (The Maze Runner), the film tells Jackie Kennedy’s story in flashback form, going back to the events as she relates them to the writer.  She is in total control of the interview and reminds the writer several times that she will be editing his notes and allowing him to write only what she approves.

We learn of earlier tragedies in her life with JFK including her miscarriage, the birth of a stillborn daughter and about Patrick Kennedy; their son who died less than two days after his birth.  We watch her taking charge of the funeral arrangements for her dead husband.  Robert F Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard – Robot & Frank) JFK’s brother and his Attorney General tries his best to help Jackie with the funeral and in running interference for her with new President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch – The Founder)Jackie Kennedy also has difficult moments dealing with Jack Valenti (Max Casella – Live By Night), who would become the first “Special Assistant” to President Johnson.  Valenti would later become head of the Motion Picture Association of America, where he created the system of ‘rating’ films.

Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard in ‘Jackie

One of Jackie Kennedy’s projects during the all-too brief presidency of her husband was refurbishing the White House.  We see flashbacks to an unprecedented tour she gave to CBS News and the able assistance she received from her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha).

Natalie Portman has an innate ability to bring characters, real and fictional, to life on the big screen.  This effort ranks among her best.  She nails not just the appearance and accent, but the mannerisms of the woman who many say brought grandeur back to the White House.  As there seems to be a trend in making movies about real people from our past and present, add Natalie Portman’s name to the list of actors who excel in this area.

The attention to detail in recreating the look and feel of 1963 is wildly successful.  Its 99 minute running time is compact and there are no wasted moments or visuals presented.  An excellent effort.

You can view an update on the actual interview here and it contains a link to the original December 6, 1963 issue of Life Magazine.

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