Sunday, December 18, 2016


 4.5 / 5  

Watch closely as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy stands in front of a vanity mirror aboard Air Force One places the pink Chanel pillbox hat atop her head.  She is, of course, preparing to descend the steps onto Love Field, accompanied by her husband, the 35th president of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy.

As embodied (because it's much more than a portrayal) by Natalie Portman, Jackie does not fuss over the hat.  She sets it in exactly the right position.  So effortlessly does this sort of perfect attention to detail come to Jackie that the moment is over in an instant -- but the way that hat sat upon her head on Nov. 22, 1963, is something no one, even those of us not even alive, will ever forget.

In Jackie, Jackie Kennedy is depicted as a woman of immense contradictions, whose sultry whisper of a voice, seeming timidity, willingness to become a bit of window dressing (as she literally does in the movie's final moments) is at odds with the other sides we see of her.

She has invited a reporter to her husband's family's home in Hyannis Port, Mass. -- she knows it is not and never will belong to her -- just one week after Dallas.  The pretense is that she wants to tell her side of the story, but that is not at all what she wants to do.

Cinematically, director Pablo Larraín makes that clear with the vaguely sinister, disquieting music that opens his film, which has a shockingly literate, nuanced screenplay by Noah Oppenheim.  No, Jackie makes it quite plain to the reporter (Billy Crudup) that she has no intention of giving him an emotional tell-all -- she's not even going to let him write the story he wants.  He is going to write the story she wants.  She knows how a hat should sit on a head -- she's not about to let the public image of JFK be sullied by the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis or failure on civil rights issues; the facts are not going to get in the way.

In that sense, it's a prescient, relevant story, but there's an important distinction: Jackie knows, unlike the incoming occupant of the Oval Office, that images can be shattered, that wealth is not the same as class, that history does not wait for perspective -- it must be molded and shaped immediately.

A week after the assassination of her husband, who slumped lifeless into her lap in America's nightmare on Elm Street, she is ready to do that molding.  She's also angry.  She's bitterly angry at Lee Harvey Oswald, at the "gracious" Johnsons (who, after all, stepped right into the roles of JFK and Jackie without missing a beat), at Washington, at politics, at the Kennedys -- she is angry at everyone because she is grieving.

That, it turns out, is the difficult and tricky subject at the core of the visually arresting, consistently compelling Jackie, and in that regard it is a film very much of a pair with the equally sensitive and nuanced Manchester by the Sea. It shares many of similar observations, but is filtered through a remarkably different lens.  Still, they are both about the numbness of shocking loss, of the impossible weight of dealing with sudden tragedy.

Portman's Jackie goes through every possible permutation of grief in the movie, and she is not just unconcerned about the public perception -- she is simultaneously dismissive and hyper-aware of it.  Her loss was a country's loss, but it was deeply, singularly hers.  Her politician-celebrity husband, who had affairs and required medications and shared a private life with his family, has not just died, but been killed in her arms, in front of her eyes, and now the eyes of everyone are watching her.

Jackie follows her story as she tries to make sense of the senselessness, tries to plan for a funeral while getting evicted from her home, copes with her children as she loses her job.  She has taken that job very seriously, as we see in stunning re-enactments of her televised tour of the White House.  She has brought vision and tenacity to that job, and now it, her husband, her life has been torn away.

This is a deeply personal movie, one that may not have an effect on everyone who sees it.  Portman's dazzling and commanding performance is quiet and careful and studied -- even a little distant, a bit aloof, just as Jackie Kennedy seemed to be.  Both she and the filmmakers know just how fragile a movie like this is, so they are careful not to make any false steps.  Some may say they're too careful, but I was surprised how bold they can be.  In one beautiful, moving scene, Jackie tells a priest (John Hurt) that every night since Dallas she has wanted to die.  It's not a common scene, either in writing or acting: She is forthright about this, about the pain she has suffered.  Only we in the audience know how far her pain is from being over.

Jackie presents this physically small woman as she reaches the breaking point -- and keeps herself together.  In that, Jackie is presents a story that anyone who has experienced loss will recognize.  We go on, but only because we must.

Viewed Dec. 18, 2016 -- Arclight Sherman Oaks


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