'Jackie' Out on Blu-ray

Natalie Portman’s star turn as the First Lady

Mar. 13, 2017
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Natalie Portman was an early favorite to win Best Actress for her star turn in Jackie, but then, early Oscar favorites often come home without the golden statue. Along with the La La Land juggernaut, 2016 just didn’t seem like a year when the general public cared to remember Camelot.

I had mixed opinions when reviewing Jackie in the theater, but rewatching it on the new Blu-ray (and DVD) release. I recognized a well-wrought piece of cinema whose flaws are relatively minor. I was troubled the first time by Portman’s facsimile of Jacqueline Kennedy, but on reflection, I see that she gave a remarkable performance whose enormous emotional range was packed inside a good impression of the patrician First Lady.

The flaws? I remain unimpressed with Peter Saarsgaard’s weak, flubbery and uncharismatic Robert Kennedy and by Caspar Phillipson’s grumpy performance as Lyndon B. Johnson (see Bryan Cranston’s excellent LBJ in All the Way). Billy Crudup fails to invest sufficient interest in Life magazine reporter Theodore H. White—a problem given the amount of screen time he occupies—whose on and off the record interview with the former First Lady provides Jackie with its structure.

But along with Portman’s performance, the strengths are in Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s shuffling the cards of time and memory. Much of Jackie consists of flashbacks, not always in linear order, as the Kennedy widow dials up memories and decides how to edit them for posterity. After JFK’s death, she seeks out her priest. “Jack and I hardly ever spent the night together,” she confesses (a revelation not intended for the public) and wonders, “Now what am I left with?” The answer is two young children and no certain role beyond her responsibility as the widow in black at the state funeral. She drifts through the White House like a ghost as LBJ’s henchman, Jack Valenti (yes, the guy who later headed the Motion Picture Association of America), tells her it’s time to pack her bags.

Jackie has many well-mounted scenes, especially the forlorn first lady stripping off the blood-stained pink dress she wore on her ill-fated ride into Dallas, and the pageantry of JFK’s full-dress funeral. Larraín, who claims to know little of the Kennedy legend, recreates the famous photograph taken on Air Force One as a hastily recruited judge administers the oath of office to LBJ, and Jackie looks on with abysmal mortification. Portman’s face registers devastation after the assassination but settles into cool, aristocratic hauteur for the interview with Life.

In flashbacks the First Lady wrestles with self-doubt but is ultimately determined to see things through her way. By the time of her Life interview, she has curated her thoughts and become the cool, collected figure of mystery as she would be remembered by many Americans.

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