Thursday, December 22, 2016

Natalie Portman's Performance As JACKIE Is Second Oscar Worthy

Now playing at an indie art house theater near me:

JACKIE (Dir. Pablo Larraín, 2016)

The Kennedy assassination has been cinematically examined many, many times before, but Pablo Larraín’s JACKIE looks at what’s considered one of the most tragic and world-changing events in American history from the most intimate angle.

That would be through the eyes of JFK’s First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, who was sitting next to her husband in the Presidential Limousine on that fatal day in Dallas when he was slain by a sniper.

Written by Noah Oppenheim (THE MAZE RUNNER, ALLEGIANT), the film concerns Mrs. Kennedy, beautifully portrayed by Natalie Portman, being interviewed by noted journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life Magazine at the Kennedy’s family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts shortly after the death of her husband in late ’63.

Through flashbacks we are taken through Jackie’s recollections of the aftermath of the assassination, and the making of her 1962 CBS television special A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy (Mad Men fans may remember the episode in which several characters were watching this special).

The tone between the former First Lady and writer White is tense as she reminds him that she’ll be editing their conversation in case she doesn’t say exactly what she means, and she says curtly, right after taking a puff on her cigarette, that she doesn’t smoke.

Peter Sarsgaard puts in a solid turn as JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy, who despite being in a state of shock, does what he can to assist his sister-in-law with the funeral arrangements while newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) prepares to move into the White House. Johnson’s staff includes future Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti, played with assholish arrogance by Max Casella.

Former indie it girl Greta Gerwig is on helpful hand as Mrs. Kennedy’s Social Secretary, Richard E. Grant (WITHNAIL & I) plays abstract painter/Kennedy confidante William Walton, and JFK dead ringer Caspar Phillipson puts in brief appearances as the iconic Commander in Chief in flashbacks. But perhaps the best supporting role here is that of John Hurt as Father Richard McSorley, who Jackie confers with about her despair. Hurt is somehow comforting when he tells Mrs. Kennedy that there are no answers, and that every soul alive wonders whether this is all that there is. Not your typical “everything happens for a reason” b.s. for sure.

Portman’s Jackie may not be picture perfect, but she’s got the voice and mannerisms down and almost immediately I was buying her in the role. She obviously studied the White House tour film, and probably just about every recording of the legendary woman that she could find, but her performance comes off as a lot more than a studied impression. It’s a lived-in piece of fine acting that captures the emotional rollercoaster of mourning. 

The feelings of grief, confusion, anger, and loss of faith that Jackie wrestles with all swirl together in such moments as when Lady Bird Johnson (Beth Grant) suggests that Jackie should change out of her blood-covered pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat on the plane ride back from Dallas as there will be press and cameras ready for her when they land, and Mrs. Kennedy sternly remarks: “There were wanted posters everywhere for Jack - with Jack’s face on them. Let them see what they’ve done.”

When Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswalt, is shot by Jack Ruby on live TV, RFK decides to shield Jackie from the news, but when she learns about it she still isn’t deterred from arranging the elaborate funeral procession in which she walked in black veil slowly behind her husband’s casket for eight-blocks through Washington D.C. to St. Matthews Cathedral.

While much of the film is speculation about Jackie’s state of mind, and, like with any dramatization of history there are bound to be inaccuracies, Larraín and Portman’s depiction of this elegant lady feels authentically faithful to its subject. I was unaware that the entire notion of JFK’s being likened to Camelot originated from Mrs. Kennedy’s interview with White.

Jackie recalls that her husband used to play side two of the Original Cast Recording of Camelot before turning in at night, and that he loved the lyric “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

So as the film movingly reveals, Jackie Kennedy herself polished the legend of JFK’s era that still shines today. Here, Portman channels that shine into a powerful and poignant performance that is absolutely second Oscar worthy (she had previously won for BLACK SWAN).

JACKIE, one of two historical dramas that director Larraín has made this year (the other being NERUDA about Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda), may be an overly respectful and romanticized portrait (but not too romanticized that we don’t get a graphic assassination scene, gory head wound and all), but it feels profoundly righteous as it completely earns its gravitas. It’s a gripping experience to see one of our countries most beloved political figures being embodied by one of the most beloved actresses of our day in this haunting tale about finding grace in the face of tragedy.

This film also stirs up emotions about dealing with the difficult transition involving power changing hands next month. The Obama administration was as close to Kennedy’s Camelot as I fear we’re going get again in my lifetime. Such a movie as this is a must see in these scary times as it reminds us that America has gotten through dark times before and will again. This movie makes me want to believe that, despite the scariness of what’s on the rapidly approaching horizon, Camelot lives!

More later...

1 comment:

Aysu Toprak said...

In the film, which deals with the family size of Jfk's assassination, Natalie Portman performed an excellent acting.