JACKIE, bio­graph­i­cal drama, rated R; Regal DeVar­gas, Vi­o­let Crown; 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Pablo Lar­raín’s Jackie fo­cuses on three days in 1963, from that fate­ful Nov. 22 mo­tor­cade in Dal­las through the state fu­neral for the slain pres­i­dent on the 25th. The film goes out­side that box with flash­backs, but only as far as the Kennedy White House years, and Lar­raín brack­ets the whole with the ar­rival of an un­named (per­haps Theodore White) jour­nal­ist (Billy Crudup) to in­ter­view the griev­ing widow in her Hyan­nis Port home. Jackie is a chain-smok­ing mix of porce­lain and steel. She warns her visi­tor that she in­sists on fi­nal edit of the in­ter­view, “in case I don’t say what I mean.”

Natalie Port­man plays Jackie Kennedy, and she makes pierc­ingly real the an­guish, the dis­ori­en­ta­tion, and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of this young (thirty-four) woman cop­ing with tragedy in the fur­nace of the world’s shocked at­ten­tion. De­ci­sions had to be made in com­pressed time, from the plan­ning of the pageantry that would de­fine the death of the pres­i­dent and as­sure the ro­man­tic legacy of Camelot, to the sud­den, rushed re­moval over a week­end from a house where she had ex­pected to live for two to six more years.

But play­ing a his­tor­i­cal figure who is still vivid in the minds of many is a tricky business. Port­man hits con­vinc­ing notes in con­vey­ing the hu­man drama, and there are stretches where she suc­ceeds in in­hab­it­ing the young widow who was al­ready the most fa­mous woman in the world even be­fore that mo­men­tous week­end. But there is also a sense of im­per­son­ation. She does the fa­mous Jackie whisper, but it feels like Port­man do­ing it, not Jackie speak­ing. It some­times veers to­ward car­i­ca­ture, and can be drowned out by Mica Levi’s over­whelm­ing score.

One of the key de­ci­sions by Lar­raín and screen­writer Noah Op­pen­heim is to recre­ate a por­tion of Jackie Kennedy’s fa­mous tele­vised tour of the White House. It’s easy to go back and look at the orig­i­nal on YouTube, and the com­par­i­son is not kind to Port­man’s ver­sion. Her effort to show the first lady’s in­se­cu­ri­ties bleeds too openly into the per­sona she shows as she pre­pares and then goes be­fore the cam­era. She’s coached and sup­ported from the side­lines by her loyal aide Nancy Tuck­er­man, played by Greta Ger­wig, who tow­ers over Port­man by nearly half a foot, draw­ing un­for­tu­nate at­ten­tion to the dis­crep­ancy be­tween the tall, elegant Jackie and the diminu­tive ac­tress wear­ing her clothes.

There’s good sup­port­ing work by a large cast, in­clud­ing a slightly over­aged-look­ing Peter Sars­gaard as Bobby Kennedy, John Hurt as a priest, and John Car­roll Lynch as a heavy, glow­er­ing LBJ. But for bet­ter and for worse, it’s Port­man’s show.

The three days cov­ered by this movie were among the most wrench­ing in our his­tory, al­though we’ve had oth­ers, be­fore and since, that have dis­rupted the path of our coun­try and the way we live our lives. Lar­raín, the gifted Chilean di­rec­tor of No and Neruda, makes his Amer­i­can movie de­but here, and takes a de­cent stab at de­scrib­ing the events of that cat­a­clysmic week­end, and hu­man­iz­ing the per­son we have mythol­o­gized be­yond recog­ni­tion. But a real con­nec­tion re­mains elusive. As Jackie says in the movie, “There’s a great di­vide be­tween what peo­ple be­lieve and what I know to be true.” — Jonathan Richards

In Camelot: Natalie Port­man

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