Movie review: Jackie explores a new point of view

Natalie Portman carries the role of widow and former first lady in Jackie. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Natalie Portman carries the role of widow and former first lady in Jackie. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The myth of the Kennedys and Camelot is so interwoven in the fabric of American history and identity that we often forget how intentionally it was constructed to be just that. The style, the dinners, the decorations, everything was carefully planned to project a particular image that would inspire Americans and survive long after the administration ended. But the intentionality of it all makes it no less genuine; people need a national mythology to remind them of who they are, what they value and where they’ve been.

R, 91 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

This is the subject of Jackie, Pablo Larraín’s new film that is being advertised as a biopic but is much closer to a meditation on a theme or a visual essay. Natalie Portman plays First Lady Jacqueline “Jackie” Kennedy, a composed and confident character with a constant eye toward how Americans of today and future generations view their leaders and, by extension, themselves. The film begins with Jackie speaking with Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) of Life magazine after she’s left the White House. Larraín then brings us on a journey through Jackie’s time in the public imagination, switching between her famous televised tour of the White House, the fateful day in Dallas, the period of time that followed in which she was responsible for Jack’s funeral and, therefore, legacy, interwoven with her dialogue with White.

Larraín is primarily concerned with exploring Jackie and her point of view, with the facts of her biography taking a backseat to the person she chose to be. She is surrounded by handlers and powerful men looking out for her well-being, including Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), all of whom are interested in the immediate practicality of transition and stability. These issues are no doubt important, but Jackie knows that these are not what people will remember when they think of this hectic time. They’ll remember grace, they’ll remember powerful symbols, and they’ll remember feelings more deeply than the sequence of events. The events of our lives are often out of our control, but our legacy is of our own making.

Larraín’s camera frequently floats behind Jackie as she walks through the halls, capturing as much of the scenery as possible with her low in the frame, depicting her in her chosen context as was her wont. The wonderful score by Mica Levi (Under the Skin) feels modern yet timeless, amplifying the film’s themes of legacy and memory. Portman’s performance is studious and captivating, as attentive to both appearance and depth as the first lady herself.

Despite its intelligence, good intentions and a career-defining performance by Portman, it would be difficult to recommend Jackie to anyone but the devoted. The lack of a narrative center is its greatest artistic strength, but Larraín often circles back to the same point with nothing in particular to say that hasn’t already been said several times. And though Levi’s score is one of the year’s best, it is too often placed at random and becomes unfortunately distracting.

None of this is enough to ruin Jackie, however. Observant, philosophical and unforgettable for its examination of intentional myth-making, Jackie is a template for a new kind of biopic and a revelation for the already beloved Portman.

Playing this week

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Assassin’s Creed, Collateral Beauty, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fences, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moana, Office Christmas Party, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing, Why Him?

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Assassin’s Creed, Collateral Beauty, Fences, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing

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