Combustible Celluloid
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With: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Beth Grant, Max Casella, Caspar Phillipson
Written by: Noah Oppenheim
Directed by: Pablo Larraín
MPAA Rating: R for brief strong violence and some language
Running Time: 99
Date: 12/02/2016

Jackie (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Outside the Pillbox

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Yet another film about the Kennedy family sounds like an eye-rolling prospect, but Pablo Larrain's Jackie, which opens today in Bay Area theaters, is so painfully alive, so painstakingly intimate, that it rises above such simple descriptions.

It begins with a wraparound sequence. Jackie Kennedy (a remarkable Natalie Portman) speaks to a reporter (Billy Crudup) in the first days after the assassination of her husband.

She demonstrates astounding power and poise during her storytelling, attempting to shape the events to her satisfaction.

The movie then leaps around like memories, moments out of time, and Mica Levi's remarkable musical score helps underline this feeling of disjointed, interior episodes.

In flashbacks, director Larrain (director of the Oscar-nominated Spanish-language film No and the upcoming Neruda) lets his camera continuously trail Jackie, or lead her.

She's always at the center of the frame, frequently moving, but sometimes captured still, in a moment alone. Interestingly, Darren Aronofsky, who directed Portman in her Oscar-winning role in Black Swan, uses a similar technique, and is credited as a producer here.

Jackie shows the assassination itself, and the confused events that follow. Jackie gathers with others, including her equally distraught brother-in-law Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), clearly in shock, vulnerable, and walking a nervous tightrope of control.

She makes arrangements for a funeral, possibly a long, elegant, but possibly dangerous funeral march. This could be a historically canny decision, or she could be crazy with grief.

Above all, it's Portman that carries most of the weight in Jackie. It's a banner year for her, with all-time career-topping performances in both this and in the overlooked A Tale of Love and Darkness.

Meanwhile, the business of continuing to run the country goes on. Vice President Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) is sworn in as Commander-in-Chief before anyone has a chance to process the tragedy. Jackie is present at the swearing-in, and, more than anything, she looks hurt.

In other scenes, Larrain re-creates footage of a 1962 television documentary, allowing viewers a peek at the way an elegant, shy Jackie decorated the White House.

It's an interesting juxtaposition that demonstrates the movie's preoccupation with perception and history, and the ways in which those in power try to control and manipulate them.

In a way, Clint Eastwood's misunderstood J. Edgar tackled the same themes, but Jackie does so more succinctly and more poetically.

Jackie deserves mention alongside Robert Drew's documentary Primary (1960), which covered John F. Kennedy's run for the White House; Oliver Stone's paranoid conspiracy theory JFK (1991), and the Zapruder film itself, but at the same time, it's something new.

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