First Hit: It was a confusingly powerful portrayal of Jackie Kennedy during a most difficult time.
Confusing because my media biased view of Jackie consisted of a refined elegance and intelligence gained through a wealthy upbringing. This was challenged by the oddly phrased and pronounced speech along with the way she approached the challenges during this time. Although the assassination was an extremely traumatic event and the brief window this film uses to introduce us to Jackie is small, there was an oddity to the character that left me both confused and interestingly engaged.
Jackie (Natalie Portman) didn’t invent anything, didn't lead any social movements (non-profit or otherwise) and therefore her famousness comes from being a First Lady that revitalized the interior of The White House and that her popular husband was publicly assassinated in a short lived Presidency. The only visibility the public had of her was through the media. Glimpses of her as first lady, giving a tour of The White House, mother of Caroline and John, as a grieving widow, and dating and marrying Aristotle Onassis a Greek shipping tycoon. Regardless, the public had fascination about her and it is this attraction that probably led to this film.
This film’s timeframe is short. It begins with a post assassination interview by a journalist (Billy Crudup) as the vehicle for Jackie to share the truth as she saw it. To speak about the events of assassination, the funeral, and her time in The White House while hinting at Jack’s (John Fitzgerald Kennedy as played by Casper Phillipson) sexual indiscretions during their marriage. The film also interlays filmed sequences of her famous White House television tour, which gave many people their first look at the President’s famous home.
I enjoyed the way it was filmed in that the scenes were rich with the look of the early 1960s. Additionally, I liked the scenes of the tour. These scenes moved from the film’s richly colored set to the grainy and hazy black and white images that appeared on most television screens.
At times, I found Jackie to be very superficial by worrying so much about what something looked like and not caring so much about substance, to be followed by times where the complexities of her thinking came across as deep and intellectual, like the clarity of finding the right space to bury her husband. I never met her and because I only knew of her from the media, I’ve no way of knowing how closely Portman mimicked or embodied the role.
Her focus on making sure that Jack didn’t become just another “oil portrait on the wall” but that he stood for something was brought forth many times by her and Jack’s brother Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard). Supporting Jackie throughout the film was her assistant Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), her closest confidant.
Although I wondered about the lack of tension and reasons why I was watching the film, I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next because there was an air of unpredictability in her voice and intention. As she states to a priest after the assassination, that her life was over and that she would spend the rest of her life waiting for it to be really over. This came across in the film and it was believable.
Portman was either amazing or created an odd characterization of this famous name. Again, I don’t know and given what I’ve seen and how Portman delivers performances, I’m going to say it was an amazing performance at an award-winning level. Crudup was interesting because his reactions to Jackie during the interview were, at times, priceless. An example was her telling the journalist that she doesn’t smoke as she lights up her 10th cigarette in a row was great. Sarsgaard was very good as Bobby. He was feisty and protective of his brother and what they were doing together, which matched my media understanding of him through the 1960s. Gerwig was very good. I loved her supportive actions including the visual reminders for Jackie to smile. Noah Oppenheim wrote a very strong script. Pablo Larrain’s direction was straightforward and no punches were pulled. The interspersed views of the assassination were excellent – especially the last one.
Overall: This film isn’t for everyone and for people who have no connection to Jackie or didn’t live during her lifetime, it may not work