Natalie Portman Brings ‘Jackie’ And A National Tragedy To Life

Regardless of one’s age, Jackie is a film to watch before Portman’s performance is nominated for best actress awards.

An ambitious biopic on former First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s experience of the assassination of her husband, Jackie follows her struggle for composure as well as her effort to cement her husband’s legacy in Americans’s hearts throughout the orchestration of his funeral following his very public death.

Having spent much of her time as first lady focusing on the historical significance and stature of the White House and the various icons of American history on display inside, she commits the same attention to JFK’s funeral, agonizing over how it will look on television for the millions of Americans struggling to understand the senseless murder.

The film’s nonlinear structure bases itself off the interview Jackie allowed Theodore H. White to write and publish in Life magazine, and the key word here is “allowed.” Jackie is adamant that nothing she says throughout the interview is on-the-record without her explicit permission, and her self-aware requirement for personal editing illustrates the character trait that director Pablo Larraín is most enamored with in producing the biographical drama.

Perhaps too much, though, as Jackie’s soul is almost too elusive for audiences to fully grasp the humanity behind her stoic strength after holding her husband’s head together in her lap in Dallas. If statuesque, however, Jackie is still a striking character, and Larraín’s idolization of his subject matter complements Natalie Portman’s captivating performance.

In terms of appearance—and costuming—Portman is spot on, and she commits fully to Jackie’s raspy voice, which may be unexpected for younger viewers unaware of the former First Lady’s actual raspy cadence. Portman’s performance shares the same emotional coldness as the script, which results in a somewhat icy embodiment of Ms. Kennedy. 

The casting for the Washington supporting characters gets it right with surprisingly good facial authenticity, particularly with Caspar Phillipson as JFK, Beth Grant as Lady Bird Johnson, and the First Family kids. Peter Sarsgaard’s face is not quite precisely RFK’s facial look, but his performance closes the gap.

I may not be old enough to truly appreciate the portrait of Jackie that this film paints, but a post-discussion with other movie reviewers who can still vividly recall the tragic events in 1963 impressed upon me the cultural and historical veracity of the film’s subject. Regardless of one’s age, Jackie is a film to watch before Portman’s performance is nominated for best actress awards.

Cole Figus has a BFA degree in acting, and has experience in film and theatre both in the performing and technical arts.
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