Natalie Portman does titanic, career-best work in “Jackie,” in which she plays Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
This is no normal biopic. Director Pablo Larraín brings an icy chill to the movie and frames it as a piece of impressionistic cinema, definitely an art film and definitely not designed for consumption by mass audiences.
The movie announces itself with the introduction of Mica Levi’s score, which sounds like a single note careening off a cliff and into the abyss. It’s jarring and disturbing — Levi also did the score for 2013’s similarly odd Jonathan Glazer stunner “Under the Skin” — and it lets you know, right off the bat, that something here is very wrong.
In the film’s shifting timeline, Portman’s Jackie gives (and not so subtly controls) an interview with a visiting reporter for Life magazine (played by Billy Crudup), prepares the funeral arrangements for her husband, visits with her priest (John Hurt) and leads her famous televised White House tour. Portman plays the first lady as vulnerable, tough, demanding, confused and authoritative, sometimes all at once. She’s hyper-conscious of her legacy even as history is unfolding around her, and the movie isn’t afraid to paint her as stiff and shrill. It’s an entirely unsympathetic portrayal and deserves kudos as such.
Portman mimics Jackie’s breathy delivery so immaculately that at first you want to dismiss her performance as merely a gimmick. But she is deeply embedded in the character, living through her skin, in a piece of work that is as challenging as it is rewarding. “Jackie” is a gamble, and Portman makes it pay off.
Rated R: for brief strong violence and some language
Running time: 100 minutes