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An account of the days of First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

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Jackie movie full length review - Jackie Oh!

(RATING: ???? out of 5)


IN BRIEF: A magnifcent performance gets sidelined with weak storytelling.


SYNOPSIS: Jackie Kennedy's days immediately following the assassination of her husband.

JIM'S REVIEW: There is much to admire in Pablo Larrain's insightful docudrama, Jackie, just as there is much to disapprove of. We focus on the tragic last days of one of as America's most popular and sophisticated First Ladies, Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis). We follow her ordeal and witness her grief over the assassination of her husband and our country's 35th president.

November 22, 1963. Always fashionably attired, Jackie prepares for that fateful drive in Dallas, dressing in that soon-to-be iconic pink and black Chanel outfit and matching pillbox hat. It signals to the movie-going audience what is to be, as we are helplessly drawn into the series of events leading up to her husband's untimely murder.

Through flashbacks and using her interview with a journalist from Life Magazine as its plot device, the film depicts Jackie as mother, wife, and political figure. It addresses her personal struggles: her philandering husband, Jack (an underused Caspar Phillipson as a perfect doppelganger), her well-to-do marriage of convenience, her stalwart devotion to her children, her image as part of America's royal family, her political savvy and desperation to preserve her husband's legacy.

Jackie Kennedy became an American legend, a symbol of strength and grace. She also led a most uncommon life filled with its share of highs (fashion icon and trendsetter, Emmy winner, advocate of the arts, a successful book editor, a millionaire's wife) and lows (an indifferent marriage, the premature death of both her husband, two of her children, and a stepson, the violent death of her brother-in-law, a fall from grace due to a second marriage and her reincarnation as Jackie O., the target of the paparazzi). In this film, some of this is alluded to, most is ignored due to the director and his screenwriter, Noah Oppenheim, and their decision to limit the scope of this character study.

?As a docudrama, the film takes numerous liberties in its telling of the tale. Yet the script repeatedly overplays the melodrama. Its non-linear aspects of the narrative structure do not help matters, nor does the choppy editing by Sebastián Sepúlveda which includes archival footage that never seamlessly blends with Mr. Larrain's actual reenactments.

While this bio-pic establishes Jackie's anguish and grief succinctly, there are many missed opportunities. The exposition and details needed to flesh out her relationship to Jack Kennedy just are not there. Much of the supporting characters are underdeveloped. More time is spent on her relationship with her brother-in-law, Bobby, who comes across more kindly and positive than corrupt and malicious as history has indicated. Her adversarial run-ins with LBJ are MIA.

?In general, the acting is a mixed bag of strong and weak performances, mostly due to the sketchiness of the written supporting characters. Greta Gerwig and Bill Crudup offer fine work while Peter Sarsgaard and John Carroll Lynch are less successful with their impersonations of Robert Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. John Hurt's role as Jackie fictitious spiritual adviser seems to be only a writer's prop into Jackie's state of mind and never is remotely a believable character.

So the film's success rests entirely on Ms. Portman's vivid portrayal as Jackie Kennedy and the actress is a revelation. Ms. Portman's voice modulates from breathy precise diction for the general public and a deeper timbre in her everyday speech patterns behind closed doors. The actress captures her quiet inflections and public mannerism while investing in all of the emotional upheaval of a woman in mourning. It is a remarkable achievement in acting and deserves to be recognized.

?What makes this film so riveting, besides the towering performance of Natalie Portman in the title role, is the behind-the-scenes feel of the film. Perhaps the film's most telling concept is the tell-all depiction of Jackie herself and her calculating desperation to control her private and personal world. The actress daringly allows her character to be unlikable. Her obsession to create a Camelot existence and its dreamlike quest for an Utopian fantasy becomes the thing dreams are made of. It not only legitimizes her husband's fame and historical gravitas, but hers as well and the film brings off this aspect very well.

?Great care has also been taken by the director to replicate the real life characters and events of the era. Mr. Larrain gives his film style and substance, convincingly echoing the personas of the Kennedy clan. The hair and make-up design and period costumes by Madeline Fontaine are meticulously rendered and make Mr. Larrain's images more recognizable for any moviegoer. The production design by Jean Rabasse completes the overall effect. However, Stéphane Fontaine's photography becomes too artfully heavy-handed with severe in-your-face close-ups. Even more off-putting is Mica Levi's score which is made up of loud dissonant high-pitched chords that produce a strangely eerie sound that would be more appropriate in a science fiction / horror movie genre than in a historical biography.

?Jackie is a flawed but literate retelling of a woman of the edge, trying to make sense of the chaos spinning around her. It boasts of the the best performance of the year. See it to appreciate two great women as one, Ms. Portman and Mrs. Jacquelyn Kennedy. It is well worth the visit.