Jan 26, 2017

Natalie Portman's stunning performance as Jackie Kennedy may take the Oscar.


Grade: A-

Director: Pablo Larrain (No,Neruda)

Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim (The Maze Runner)

Cast: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Peter Sarsgaard

Rating: R

Runtime: 99min

by John DeSando

“We’re just the beautiful people.’’ Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard)

Although the Kennedys were indeed that, Bobby has caught the spirit of director Pablo Larrain and writer Noah Oppenheim’s close-to-perfect biodrama of Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie, set during the week after her husband’s assassination. This evocation of a relatively-recent catastrophe for the American people catches the irony of “beautiful people” caught in the crosshairs of a careless and malevolent populace that rebels against too much beauty in the hands of the few.

So finely tuned is this meticulous history that while she smokes during a reporter’s (Billy Crudup) interview, she tells him, “I don’t smoke.” The smoke and mirrors of “Camelot” are carefully tended to by the former first lady, maybe the first first lady to understand the power of image and the portal, television, for making that image immortal.

Jackie is a serious exploration of a widow’s grief and her understanding of her role in history, despite any misgivings she has about myths that were already forming about her husband and that she was enhancing by playing a regal role in front of millions, a girl who doesn’t like crowds. Mrs. Kennedy presented her world to the world through an early TV trek through the changes she had made in the White House décor.  Although her husband disliked the expenditure, she knew the show would be a way of establishing the kingdom she would tend even after his death.

To see Natalie Portman become Jackie with the strange accent and debutante’s poise is to see an understated tour de force of acting, worthy of the role for which she has won an Oscar nomination. She remains poised, even right after the murder, not with her seeming self-serving but rather intimations of the immortality she can foster in front of the world.

The film, surprisingly candid with the principals’ discussion of Kennedy’s meager contributions during his two years’ tenure, shows how gradually a woman of exceptional intelligence and beauty  can become an historical treasure as she assures her husband of the same legacy.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at