Jackie

Jackie is the story of the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.  Centering on the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, played by Natalie Portman, it is a character study of one of the most intriguing figures in the history of this country.  Even today when we think of First Ladies, we think of Jackie Kennedy.  Obviously, she was intelligent and educated but that didn’t prepare her completely for marrying into the Kennedy family where her life was in a sense not private.  She had to provide an example of grace and strength to the public.

Never was that tested more than on November 22, 1963, when she sat beside her husband in a convertible parading down a street in Dallas and his brains were blown out by an assassin’s bullet.  Nobody’s going to be the same after that and most of us would fall apart completely.  We might hold it together enough for our kids but not for anyone else.  Jackie Kennedy had to be strong for the entire country.  And she did it beautifully.

Needless to say a film like this hinges on a single performance in this the filmmakers chose well.  Oscar winner Natalie Portman looks like Kennedy and she certainly has the talent to portray her.  She handles the histrionics well and exceeds at showing the inner strength we think of when we think of Jackie Kennedy.  Portman deserves all the praise and Oscar buzz she’s receiving for this performance.

The film itself has an elegiac pace and jumps between the hours after the assassination and two long conversations with a reporter, played by Billy Crudup, and a priest, played by John Hurt.  It becomes a meditation on presidential legacies and the distance between legend and truth.  Jackie is questioning her faith as anyone would in her situation so she talks to the priest.  But she is also eager to cement her husband’s legacy, which is why she brings in the reporter on the condition that she has final approval over what gets printed.  It is also why she insists on a horse drawn procession to take the coffin the eight blocks to St. Matthews Cathedral for the state funeral.  She wanted JFK’s funeral to be as close to Lincoln’s as possible.

What I don’t like is what the filmmakers are contending here.  Screenwriter Noah Oppenheim and director Pablo Larrain seem to contend that JFK didn’t really accomplish much in his short term as president and that Jackie created the whole Camelot mythology and her husband’s revered reputation in the weeks after his death.  I’m not an expert but this strikes me as unlikely.  And as a lifelong Democrat, it makes me a little angry.  That’s the kind of argument I’d expect to hear on Fox News, not in a movie.

Still it’s well done and the costumes and sets are beautiful.  The pace is slower than what most of us are used to but it only last a little over an hour and a half.  But frankly, this one can probably wait for DVD.

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