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JACKIE: 3 STARS. “bold film that values visceral feelings over glossy convention.”


Less a biopic than an intimate character study, “Jackie,” sees Natalie Portman play one of the most famous women of the twentieth century, first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Director Pablo Larraín personalizes the reaction to assassination of John F. Kennedy, presenting a portrait of grief that values rawness over slick sentimentality.

Focussing on the events immediately following November 22, 1963, the film cuts through the carefully constructed image Jacqueline Kennedy presented to the world. Instead it shows her as a grieving widow struggling to fulfil her personal responsibilities under the scrutiny of the American people and White House staff.

Larraín employs a standard biopic starting point—an interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup)—to frame the tale, but then throws all other familiar biographical approaches out the window. Kennedy’s story is a tragic one played out on the world stage and yet the film is never mawkish. It is a look at the end of “Camelot”—the musical and the ideological state of mind it personified for the Kennedy administration—as a psychological portrait of the woman at the very centre of it all.

Portman plays Kennedy not from the point of view of history—she is remembered for her grace and dignity—but as a woman fraying around the edges as she ponders the gravity of her situation and the legacy that will be left behind. She doesn’t look like Kennedy but, in a performance largely captured in close up, creates a portrait that seamlessly blends the poised, public Kennedy persona with a woman on the verge of a breakdown. It is often harrowing and certainly shows a different side of Kennedy than any other look at the subject.

“Jackie” is a bold film that values visceral feelings over glossy convention. It presumes much in its efforts to peer into the cracks of history, taking abundant artistic licence with what some will see as an intrusive look into Kennedy’s life. This is not “Camelot,” it’s the flipside of that romantic fairy tale.

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