Film

Portman supreme as widowed First Lady in 1963
Jackie (15A)

If you get the accent right, the part usually takes care of itself. Natalie Portman does that to an exemplary degree here – right down to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s tendency to pronounce ‘r’ as ‘w’ – and ends up giving a performance of such quality that the film, like its title, truly belongs to her.

That walk. Those teeth. Cheekbones that look as deep as the Grand Canyon…

If you thought her finest hour was in Black Swan, think again. She goes from bewilderment to anger to devastation to sarcasm – and even black humour – after that dark day in Dallas.  

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  Jackie’s life, in some ways, really only began when her husband’s one ended. It was then we learned she wasn’t just the fashion plate who showed people around the White House on tours, exulting about her forbears and Old Glory.

No, this woman was made of steel. That becomes evident early on in the film when she’s confrontational with a man who comes to interview her for Life magazine.

Such an interview bookends the film. It’s threaded in between flashbacks to a time when she was “happyeveraftering in Camelot”, before “a little communist” by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald fired two bullets from a depository in Dallas into a man’s head and thereby changed his wife’s life forever.

The cheery pink costume with the pillbox hat became morphed into her ‘widow’s weeds’. Did she spend too much time in these? Was her procession through Washington in them at Kennedy’s funeral an exercise in vanity? Or did it feed the nation’s – nay, the world’s – need to grieve for (and with) her? The reasons she gives are complex. 

It’s a reflective film directed sensitively – so why the 15A cert? – by the Chilean Pablo Larrain.  It stops you in your tracks just like Oswald stopped Jackie in hers. The tragedy also tested her faith. “I think God is cruel,” she tells the kindly priest (an excellent John Hurt) who does his best to comfort her – and who admits to some struggles with his own faith.

Weakness

The film’s main weakness is Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy. Sarsgaard is a capable actor but he makes no attempt to do a Boston accent (we’re back to accents). The last three films I’ve reviewed on this page all had Massachusetts connections – Sarsgaard should have consulted either of the Affleck brothers for help. 

Neither does John Carroll Lynch look like Lyndon Johnson. Caspar Phillipson, on the contrary, is a ringer for JFK. What a pity this is only a cameo role.

But Portman dazzles. She immerses herself so much in the part it’s almost frightening. Whether flashing that 1,000-watt grin or furrowing her brows in bewilderment or being cranky with everyone in the aftermath of the assassination – her way of dealing with being in shock – this is a performance that’s so good it’s beyond words. Absolute genius.

 

Excellent *****