Jackie, by Chilean director Pablo Larrain, is a captivating and unflinching portrait of private grief amidst one of history's most public tragedies. It is, as the name suggests, neither a film about JFK's assassination nor about JFK himself, but rather a study of first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and the unfathomable burden of responsibility she both assumed and had thrust upon her in the immediate aftermath of her husband's murder.
Portrayed by Natalie Portman with uncanny fidelity, Jackie's story is told via a series of flashbacks as she gives her account of events to Pulitzer-winning journalist Theodore H. White (listed in the credits merely as 'the journalist' and played by the ever reliable Billy Crudup). White's handwritten notes of that interview were made public the year after Jackie's death, and reveal the extent to which she insisted upon oversight of the final copy to ensure JFK's legacy was honoured – including her emphasis of the 'Camelot' theme that would forever become synonymous with the late President's name.
Much like Clint Eastwood's recent Sully, the most dramatic moment in Jackie – her husband's assassination – is reserved for only the final stages of the film. For the bulk of the running time, Larrain instead chooses to focus squarely on the minutes, hours and days that followed the Dallas shooting. Gone for the most part are the glitzy ballrooms and lavish parties, replaced by hospital waiting rooms, cramped bathrooms and the back seat of a hearse.
The choice is well considered, demonstrating precisely how alone Jackie was in those trying days, save for Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) and her faithful White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig). Jackie was a woman in a man's world, and everyone of them felt entitled to tell her what to do, where to go and, most importantly, how to feel. That in that environment, under those conditions, she still found the strength to stand up to so many is a testament to Jackie's character, and forms the bulk of the film's thematic line.
Portman's performance is phenomenal, an extraordinary embodiment of the physical and aural cues that made Jackie such an icon in her own right. It's such a remarkable likeness, in fact, that the film does on occasion veer dangerously towards a mere showcase of Portman's abilities at the expense of advancing the story. Thankfully, these moments are short lived and quickly forgotten. Portman has honoured her subject with a fine portrayal that, like Jackie herself, refuses to hide behind artifice – an unflinching, bare bones turn that only grows stronger the closer the camera comes.