[Screen It]


(2016) (Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard) (R)

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Drama: The First Lady must contend with the immediate aftermath of the assassination of her husband, President Kennedy.
It's a week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (CASPAR PHILLIPSON) and his widow and former First Lady, Jackie (NATALIE PORTMAN), has granted a reporter (BILLY CRUDUP) an interview with her at her Hyannis Port home. She's initially guarded with what she says, but finally opens up to him about the event and her time in the White House before that, including her famous tour of the White House to TV viewers from the year before.

As the film moves back and forth between that and the present, we also see her interaction with her brother-in-law, Bobby Kennedy (PETER SARSGAARD), immediately after the assassination and then over the course of several days. That includes preparing to move out of the White House so that newly sworn in President Lyndon B Johnson (JOHN CARROLL LYNCH) and his wife, Lady Bird (BETH GRANT), can move in, with Johnson's right-hand man, Jack Valenti (MAX CASELLA), being concerned about Jackie's safety and that of others what with her desire to have a grand public send-off for her late husband. And inter-cut with all of that are her talks with a priest (JOHN HURT) as she discusses her grief, fears and lost faith in God.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
As much as people don't like to talk about it, everyone is going to die. And unless someone leaves this Earth at a young age, they're going to have friends, family and sometimes spouses die before them. Most such deaths will be the result of old age or some illness that might take months or years to run its course.

Other deaths happen without warning, and while they spare the victim and survivors of an often slow and sometimes painful march to meet the Grim Reaper, the sudden nature is an obvious shock to the system. And when such a loss of life is the result of homicidal violence, the effect is only exacerbated. I can't imagine going through that, especially as a first-hand witness of such a tragic event.

And yet people year in and year out experience just that, although few are in the public limelight as was Jackie Kennedy when Lee Harvey Oswald shot her husband, the 35th President of the U.S., as they were seated in the backseat of an open air limo traveling through Dallas' Dealey Plaza on November 23, 1963. From Walter Cronkite (and others) reporting that sad news through Oswald being murdered himself and then the long funeral procession to Arlington National Cemetery and beyond, Mrs. Kennedy was in the glaring spotlight of an unexpected change in power and both a personal and national crisis.

All of that comes into play in "Jackie," a superb film from screenwriter Noah Oppenheim and director Pablo Larraín that features a career-defining and most likely Oscar win for Natalie Portman in the title role. While I had heard from others that her performance was outstanding, I wasn't expecting the magnitude of what she and the film manage to deliver.

It's one of the best pics of 2016, not only for all of the excellent work on display, but also as an examination of death, grief and experiencing all of that not just as a wife and mother, but also as one of the most famous people in the world, with public perception of everything related to that being a recognized and important element.

The framing of the story involves Mrs. Kennedy granting an interview at her Hyannis Port home with a reporter (Billy Crudup) just a week or so removed from the tragic events of her husband's murder and funeral. Reserved but still in control of her public image (while chain smoking, one of several things she tells him to omit from his piece), she recounts the events of that tragic day and those thereafter leading up to her husband's last grand sendoff.

Oppenheim and Larraín not only have the story jump around through time in detailing those events, but also the First Lady discussing her grief and questioning of God with her priest (John Hurt given the bulk of the film's heady themes via his terrific dialogue) as well as her live TV tour of the White House back in happier and decidedly more innocent days.

All of which are interconnected with aplomb by all involved in tying the aforementioned themes together. From Mica Levi's haunting score (that initially seems somewhat out of place but soon gives parts of the flick an unsettling old-fashioned horror film vibe) to the gorgeous set and production design, Stéphane Fontaine's terrific cinematography and Sebastián Sepúlveda's likewise excellent editing, and, of course, Madeline Fontaine's costumes that play an important part in public image (including the First Lady's well-documented wearing of her bloodstained dress for all to see), everything about the film is first-rate.

And when Mrs. Kennedy plays an album cut from, yes, you might have guessed it, the musical "Camelot" during a moment of being alone in the White House and then the title song plays at the end, everything (the loss, the grief, the prospects of what might have been and the certainty of what would never occur again) is driven home in such a poignant and devastating way that you can't help but be moved. And realize you've just witnessed something powerful and profoundly spectacular. Yes, it's that good. "Jackie" rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed December 1, 2016 / Posted December 9, 2016

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