It’s said that behind every great man there is a great woman, but the women behind the men seldom get the appreciation or legacy they truly deserve. In the case of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, we often only see her as she is with John, who has been idolized, romanticized and immortalized despite his short time as president as well as his adulterous affairs—but never her; she has always been the tragic debutante widow, overshadowed by her husband’s assassination in November 1963.
It’s curious that Chilean director Pablo Larraín would pick Jackie as his first English film (his second film of 2016 followed by the much-praised Neruda), but what he, Noah Oppenheimer’s script, and Natalie Portman do is a remarkable feat—they bring to light the horrific days after the assassination and define Jackie not only as the tremendous woman she was, but also the main reason for John’s lasting legacy.
If anyone thought that Black Swan was the crowning achievement in Natalie Portman’s still-young career, they were dead wrong. In fact, on nearly all accounts, Portman raises her own bar and delivers a landmark performance not only for herself, but for the character of Jackie. I doubt any portrayal in the foreseeable future will come anywhere close to scratching what Portman does. Nailing the accent, the paranoia of how she and her husband will be remembered, and tumultuous emotional stress she goes through, Portman does nothing short of delivering her best performance ever. If she doesn’t win the Oscar it will be a travesty.
Larraín takes special care in building on the feelings of grief and loss following the death of John. Thanks to the film’s free-flowing editing, we never feel trapped in one time or place too long. All things blend together, and we sometimes have to add up where and when the movie currently is, but it all helps to make Jackie herself feel unstable; she’s dislodged from the world. We see her planning the funeral and attempting to make it just like Lincoln’s— despite objections from Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) who fears it’ll attract danger—trying to guide her young children through the dark time, all while struggling to maintain her own faith and composure as she has always been labeled as poised and classy.
Though Natalie pretty much controls the entire movie—as Jackie herself does whether it be in her interview with the journalist (Billy Crudup) or the entire funeral procession– the bit parts from Crudup, Sarsgaard, and John Hurt as the priest who mentors her through her crisis of faith all serve as an outlet for her turmoil. Where does she go from here? Will her husband fade into history like so many others cut short before their time? How could God take John and not her? She may not know the answers, but we do—and Larraín delivers on this potency with the grace and mastery of a time-tested director, even if this is only his fifth film. Jackie is far and away one of the best films of the year.