This is another 2016 movie that I recently caught up with on DVD.
If you are old enough, you will be one of those people, like me, who can remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of JFK's assassination in 1963. Probably hundreds of books, movies and TV shows have been made about John and Jackie Kennedy; this is one of the latest. It's not bad and is definitely worth a look if you're interested in the Kennedys and US history in the 1960s.
Directed by a Chilean filmmaker, Pablo Larrain from a script by Noah Oppenheim, and shot partly in France, "Jackie" traces the life of Jackie Kennedy during the short space of time between when her husband was shot and his funeral procession in Washington DC some days later. In the film, Jackie (Natalie Portman) is being interviewed by an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup) for a magazine article, some little time after the assassination. In a series of flashbacks, Jackie tells of her life in the White House and what she experienced in the few days immediately after the assassination.
We probably don't learn an awful lot extra that we didn't already know. We know of Jackie's guided TV tour of the White House, extensively re-created in this movie. We know the story of the bloodstained pink suit. We know of her strained relations with LBJ and Ladybird, at least in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. We know how Bobby Kennedy gave her much-needed and much-appreciated support after JFK's death. We hear once more of her (and the authorities') security concerns during JFK's funeral procession.
Where this movie is most interesting is in its creation of a mood and an atmosphere surrounding the principal characters. Natalie Portman, who has Jackie's speech and voice pretty well down pat, shows a Jackie who, in public, was the slightly air-headed debutante, but in private was highly intelligent and perceptive. To my relief, the assassination itself is shown only briefly – a few seconds – but its impact, its shock of disbelief on the young ex-First Lady is well shown. Bobby Kennedy is played by Peter Sarsgaard; a good enough performance, but Sarsgaard does not have the dashing boyishness of the real RFK. John Hurt, in his final film before his death, is much more convincing as the Catholic priest who tries to bring some solace to the grieving widow.
Perhaps the apex of the mood created by this film is the feeling that, when JFK died, the possibility of a glittering era in American politics died with him. That sense of an Administration that was young, adventurous, full of such promise, and which regarded the world as its oyster. The sense that the White House under the Kennedys was the new Camelot. Indeed, the signature song from the show "Camelot" features quite prominently in "Jackie". It is a mood and a regret voiced by Portman in the film's closing scenes. So much potential for good and glory cut short by one bullet.
Of course, these days we are all too familiar with the warts-and-all of the real JFK, particularly his unstoppable sex addictions, affairs, and chronic illness. Little of this is shown in "Jackie". How much of these defects did the real Jackie know? The film is silent on that point. Portman portrays Jackie as still very much in love with her husband.
Ultimately, this movie is not so much about re-staging a sad episode of history. It is about exploring the mood, the atmosphere, the character, of an intelligent young woman pitchforked into a huge disaster. From that aspect, the film works well and is definitely an interesting take on the perennial Kennedy saga.
My star rating, out of five: * * * *