Jackie Kennedy is an American icon, but it’s probably for the best that the director of Jackie, the latest film about her, is not from these shores. In his first English-language film, Chilean Pablo Larrain — whose visually striking films No and Tony Manero turned a jaundiced eye to his own country’s troubled history — has made a slow but beautiful, intimate and haunting dive into the despair that follows the death of a loved one.
Perhaps because he’s not American, Larrain may not have felt attached to certain elements of the Kennedy saga. In any case, he has stripped away the standard-issue drama surrounding Nov. 22, 1963, and replaced it with a concentration on Jackie’s emotional unraveling.
One thing’s for sure, Jackie is less of a standard biopic and more of an elegy.
Larrain’s gorgeously grim and austere vision bolsters a bravura performance from Natalie Portman in the title role. She inhabits Jackie as a woman who has been shaken to her core with grief but refuses to crumble completely as she struggles to protect her children, the myth of Camelot and her sanity.
As written by Noah Oppenheim — best-known for the less emotionally gruelling, young-adult Maze Runner and Allegiant screenplays — Jackie is constructed around two conversations. One is an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup) and the other is a talk with a priest (John Hurt), while interspersed are her memories of the hours and days immediately following her husband’s assassination.
While Portman is unmistakably the star, the rest of the cast — including Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, John Carroll Lynch as LBJ and Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s assistant, Nancy — is also strong.
Shot beautifully by French cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine (Captain Fantastic, Elle, Rust and Bone) and with a riveting, downcast score by experimental musician Mica Levi, Jackie feels intensely and rapturously operatic.
Small quibble: Wherever the assassination and subsequent rush to the hospital were filmed, they are obviously not Dallas. But, in the wider world of this film’s somber universe, Jackie is pitch-perfect.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; AMC NorthPark, Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens Dec. 21 at AMC The Parks at Arlington, AMC Grapevine Mills and AMC Stonebriar, Frisco.
☆☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard
Rated: R (brief strong violence, strong language)
Running time: 99 min.